U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, bipartisan legislation that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clearly label genetically engineered (GE) foods so that consumers can make informed choices about what they eat.
Senators 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) are cosponsors of the Senate bill. Representatives 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 (D-NH) are cosponsors of the House bill.
“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. “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,” Representative DeFazio said. “This legislation is supported by consumer’s rights advocates, family farms, environmental organizations, and businesses, and it allows consumers to make an informed choice.”
“This is a common sense approach to ensuring that American consumers know more and make more informed decisions about the foods they eat,” Senator Blumenthal said. “As an advocate for consumers’ rights and ally of many groups supporting this measure, I want to make sure the food industry gives consumers the full story about what they put on their dinner tables. Consumers deserve to have clear, consistent, and accurate facts about the food products they purchase. More information is always better than less.”
“All over this country people are becoming more conscious about the foods they are eating and the foods they are serving to their kids. This is certainly true for genetically engineered foods,” Senator Sanders said. “I believe that when a mother goes to the store and buys food for her child she has the right to know what she is feeding her child.”
According to surveys, more than 90% of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods. 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. 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.
The Senate and House committees feel that FDA’s 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. A press release from Senator Boxer remarked that 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 bipartisan legislation introduced would require clear labels for genetically engineered whole foods and processed foods, including fish and seafood. The measure 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.
This legislation follows last year’s letter from Senator Boxer, Representative DeFazio and 54 Senate and House lawmakers urging the FDA to require the labeling of GE foods.
The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act has broad support from organizations and businesses, including the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Environmental Working Group, Just Label It, the National Farmers Union, Stonyfield Farms, Consumer Federation of America, AllergyKids Foundation, National Cooperative Grocers Association, New England Farmers Union, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, Center for Environmental Health, Chefs Collaborative, Label GMOs, Alaska Trollers Association, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar & Company, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature’s Path, Annie’s Inc., and many others. For a list of more of the groups supporting the bill, click here.