By STEVE BINDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last fall’s vote in California regarding the controversial proposition of labeling food products made with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) goes “national” this year with new federal legislation that already has bipartisan support.
Late last month Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.) and House Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) filed bills in their respective chambers called the “Genetically-Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act.”
It would mandate that all food manufacturers clearly label a product that contains GMOs, or risk having the products classified as “misbranded” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The bills already have nine cosponsors in the Senate and 22 cosponsors in the House. Boxer said the legislation is intended to let consumers make informed choices about the products they buy.
“We don’t tell people what to buy or what not to buy. We just want them to be able to make educated choices about their foods,” Boxer said. “Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families. 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.”
Officials with the largest biotech crop makers such as Monsanto, DuPont and Dow already have said they will oppose the new legislation, telling Reuters they are in the process of developing a new campaign that will highlight the benefits of GMO crops.
It is estimated that about 80 percent of all products consumed in the U.S. contain some measure of biotech imprint, with the latest scientific studies generally regarding such products as safe. But the movement toward labeling such products as such continues to grow; more than $51 million was spent by both sides on California’s proposition last fall, which voters rejected by a thin 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent margin. Opponents spent the most, about $44 million. Their main message was that labeling requirements could increase food costs by an average of $400 per year.
There are at least 22 other bills pending this year in state legislatures across the country that would require some level of biotech product labeling, according to the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.
Its president, Scott Faber, acknowledged that winning the labeling fight on a national stage this year may be difficult, but he notes that one major poll showed that more than 90 percent of Americans support such biotech product labeling.
Because of big ag’s opposition to the measure, it “faces an uphill climb in both the Senate and House,” Faber said, but more attention placed on the subject helps.
“No matter, what, it will put more pressure on the White House and FDA to act on this issue,” Faber added, noting that the FDA now has the power to force manufacturers to label biotech products.
The issue isn’t a new one in Congress. Just last June, for instance, an amendment to the farm bill proposed in the Senate that would have required GMO labeling failed by a 3-1 margin.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, predicted it is just a matter of time before GMO labeling will become mandatory. He noted that 64 countries, including the entire European Union, required such labeling of products. “All over this country people are becoming more conscious about the foods they are eating and the foods they are serving to their kids,” Sanders said. “This is certainly true for genetically-engineered foods. 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.”