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Boxer, DeFazio introduce federal GMO labeling bill

By Hank Schultz , 25-Apr-2013
Last updated on 25-Apr-2013 at 17:40 GMT

A bill requiring the labeling of GMO ingredients has been introduced at the federal level by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR.  Even though the bill’s chances of passage are uncertain, observers see it as a watershed moment.

“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.”

The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act introduced yesterday (click here ) 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.

The bill’s sponsors note that currently 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.

Access to information supported

“I support consumer access to labeling information to help them make informed choices with respect to GMO/non gmo food and supplement products,” said Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance.

“Clearly there is demand for this distinction in the market place. The Non GMO Project logo is thought to be the fastest growing brand in the natural products industry.”

"Americans want to know more, not less, about their food," said Katey Parker of advocacy organization Just Label It, which has more than 650 partner organizations. "More than 90 percent of Americans want the same rights as consumers in 64 countries around the world.  It's time to trust American consumers with information about genetically engineered ingredients so they can make the best choices for their families."

The move does seem to have broad support; petitions sent in to FDA to request labeling of GMO ingredients garnered more than 1 million signatures.  And the bill has a long list of cosponsors (see below) and supporting organizations.

Passage uncertain

Even with that support, chances of passage are uncertain, Israelsen said.

Now we have federal legislation;  what are the prospects?  I would say in the current congress the prospects for passage are dim.  There are very large players that will line up against this,” he said. “They are more likely to have success at a state level.”

Following the defeat of California’s Proposition 37, a number of GMO labeling drives have started up in other states.  Washington State’s I-522 is the most advanced of these , with other bills or initiatives making their way through the process in Vermont, New Mexico and elsewhere. The specter of a patchwork quilt of laws on the subject is one of the things that will keep the pressure on for an eventual national standard, Israelsen said.

“If one a state passes a law that is generally well regarded and well received that works out the problems, other states might say, we’ll adopt that. What are the chances of that? 

“The argument for federal legislation is to preempt the patchwork of different state laws. If you had 15 or 20 state laws different enough that you had to pay attention to all of them, that would be highly cumbersome,” Israelsen said.

The complete list of sponsors of the bill on the Senate side are 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).  In the House, the following Representatives have signed on as co sponsors: 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).

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