GMO Labeling Effort Reaches Washington

For months we’ve been writing about state efforts to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Now two congressmen have brought the issue to the national stage.

S.809, the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act,” was introduced April 24 by Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, both Democrats. Their bill would require the labeling of foods that contain genetically altered ingredients.

The bill has nine cosponsors in the Senate (including one Republican and one independent) and 22 in the House.

“Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families,” Boxer said. “This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen and parents who all agree that consumers deserve more – not less – information about the food they buy.”

“When American families purchase food, they deserve to know if that food was genetically engineered in a laboratory,” DeFazio added. “This legislation is supported by consumer’s rights advocates, family farms, environmental organizations, and businesses, and it allows consumers to make an informed choice.”

According to surveys, more than 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods, the two lawmakers claim in a news release. In fact, many consumers are surprised to learn that GE foods are not already labeled.

Currently, the FDA requires the labeling of over 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes, “but the agency has resisted labels for genetically modified foods,” the two said. In a 1992 policy statement, the FDA allowed GE foods to be marketed without labeling, claiming that these foods were not “materially” different from other foods because the genetic differences could not be recognized by taste, smell or other senses.

“Unfortunately, the FDA’s antiquated labeling policy has not kept pace with 21st century food technologies that allow for a wide array of genetic and molecular changes to food that can’t be detected by human senses,” the statement continued. “Common sense would indicate that GE corn that produces its own insecticide – or is engineered to survive being doused by herbicides – is materially different from traditional corn that does not. Even the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recognized that these foods are materially different and novel for patent purposes.

“Consumers – who are used to reading labels to see if foods contain MSG, trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup or aspartame – clearly want more information. More than one and a half million Americans have filed comments with the FDA urging the agency to label GE foods.”

The legislation would direct the FDA to write new labeling standards that are consistent with U.S. labeling standards and international standards.

Sixty-four countries around the world already require the labeling of GE foods, including all the member nations of the European Union, Russia, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.

Co-sponsors of the Senate bill include: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM. Co-sponsors of the House bill include Jared Polis (D-CO), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Peter Welch (D-VT), James Moran (D-VA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Don Young (R-AK), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), George Miller (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Ann Kuster.

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