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Nationwide GE Labeling Bill Introduced in Both Chambers of Congress

(Beyond Pesticides May 6, 2013) On Wednesday April 24, Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR) introduced companion legislation that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to “clearly label” all genetically engineered (GE) whole and processed foods, including fish and other seafood. The bills, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act,  H.R. 1699 and S. 809, have 22 cosponsors in the House and 10 in the Senate. This national effort builds on the multiple ongoing campaigns to label GE foods at the state level.

“Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families,” Senator Boxer said in a press release. “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.”

Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), one of the bills co-sponsors, said of the labeling act, “Empowering consumers: consumers can choose to eat or not eat GMOs, or to pay more or less for GMOs.” He said he believes consumers have a right to know what they are eating.  I believe consumers have a right to know what they are eating so they can make their own informed food choices. I am proud to be working toward more informative food labels.”

Before this national legislative effort, state labeling campaigns were launched in California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, Maryland, Missouri, Vermont, and Washington. The precursor to these state efforts was the Proposition 37 campaign in California. Prop 37 was a statewide ballot initiative voted on by Californians during the 2012 elections. Even though national polls indicated 91 percent of Americans supported GE labeling, a campaign ad launched by the agrichemical industry, which public interest groups cited as misleading, is credited with helping to defeat the bill by a 6.2 percent margin. Polls indicated that a majority of Californians supported Prop 37 into October, right before the November election. However, industry opponents poured over $46 million into the ad campaign and were easily able to outspend supporters, who only raised $9 million. Supporters of Prop 37 are regrouping, focusing on the 4.2 million Californians that voted yes and building a grassroots movement with 10,000 volunteers.

Prop 37 also helped bring the discussion of GE food into the public spotlight. Popular food writers such as Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, and Marion Nestle wrote actively about the issues of GE labeling during the Prop 37 campaign, giving a greater voice to the growing food movement. Mother Jones’ writer Tom Philpott  believed that the defeat of Prop 37 was not the defeat of the push to label GE crops: “Given the formidability and deep pockets of the opposition, I think it’s overblown to treat Prop 37 as a pass-fail test of the food movement’s political viability.”

GE legislative labeling efforts are important because, as Sec. 2 (b)(3) of HR 1699 states, “Individuals in the United States have a right to know if their food was produced with genetic engineering for a variety of reasons, including health, economic, environmental, religious, and ethical.” Study after study has shown GE crops and GE products to be dangerous to human and environmental health. Studies have observed that GE foods may cause some common toxic effects, such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive issues and may alter hematological, biochemical parameters. World renowned geneticist and biophysicist, and co-founder of the International Science Panel on Genetic Modification, Mae-Wan Ho, Ph.D., has cited numerous observations on the adverse impacts of GE foods, including severe inflammation of the lungs in mice, liver and kidney toxicity, damage to the organ system of young rats fed GE potatoes, and severely stunted pups.

The growth of GE crops also has negative effects on the environment. A recent study by researcher Charles Benbrook, Ph.D. shows that GE crops have significantly increased pesticide use and weed resistance, contrary to industry claims that the technology would reduce herbicide applications. As weed resistance increases growers have started to look towards other chemically intense methods to fight weeds. The explosion of GE crops has also been linked to a decline in pollinator populations.

For more information on GE crops, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Food Safety News


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