Health and environmental advocates have fought for years for a federal labeling program for genetically engineered food. Now, for the first time, their battle has bipartisan support in Congress.
On Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act, a bill whose nine cosponsors in the Senate include Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and whose 22 cosponsors in the House include Don Young (R-Alaska).
According to a press release from Boxer’s office, the bill has gained support from a range of organizations and companies, including the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union and AllergyKids Foundation. The bill would “require the Food and Drug Administration to clearly label genetically engineered foods,” an objective that, as the press release notes, has the support of most Americans: polls have shown more than 90 percent of Americans think GE foods should be labelled. The press release also explains why the FDA needs to make this policy change:
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.
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. 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.
The bill was introduced at a time when news and debate surrounding GE food is at a high. Last month, despite promises during his campaign that he’d require labeling of GE food, Barack Obama signed the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” into law, giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture the power to override court orders to stop planting a GE crop. Around the same time that provision was passed, a group of major grocery retailers including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s pledged they would not sell GE seafood if it were approved in the U.S. And last year, California’s Proposition 37, which would have mandated GMO labeling in the state, was narrowly defeated after biotechnology giants like Monsanto spent $44 million dollars in a campaign against the bill.
Though representatives from Monsanto and GE trade group Biotechnology Industry Organization said they haven’t yet read the full text of the GE Food Right-To-Know Act, they told the Huffington Post Wednesday that they oppose GE labeling in general, calling it “an agenda to vilify biotechnology.”