BURLINGTON, Vt. – The U.S. House of Representatives voted to block states from requiring labels on genetically modified food. Vermont was the first state in the nation to legalize labeling genetically engineered food and it has been a controversial issue ever since.
Vermont is a leader in requiring food makers to label what’s in their product. A law passed in 2014 mandating food containing genetically modified organisms in the state say so on the container.
“And now what the House is doing is going to keep that information away from consumers if it becomes law of this country,” said Vt. Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
In Washington Thursday, the House passed a bill called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, banning states from requiring GMO labels. Sorrell says the House is listening to big food manufacturers rather than consumers. Rep Peter Welch.
“This is not a question about whether science says GMO foods cause medical issues, that’s not the issue. The question is whether consumers when they purchase food have a right to know what’s in it,” said Welch, D-Vermont.
Those in favor of the GMO labeling law call this the DARK Act, or the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act. Connecticut and Maine passed laws like Vermont’s and more states are looking to also. National food groups filed a lawsuit earlier this year with the state of Vermont over the issue. They claim the law violates free speech and could wrongly imply foods are unsafe.
The Vermont Retail and Grocers Association are against letting states have their own labeling laws. The group of food merchants says Vermont’s law will be confusing to consumers and require manufacturers to print different labels for each state.
“We believe that Congress, the president or designated agencies within the administration should be the ones determining whether genetically engineering food should be labeled,” said Sigrist.
This anti-GMO label bill will now go to the Senate. It will become law only if the Senate and the president approve. Sorrell says he expects Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, to fight for GMO labeling in the Senate.
House passes bill that would prevent states from requiring labels to indicate presence of GMOs.
By MARY CLARE JALONICK
The Associated Press Full Article
WASHINGTON >> Food companies would not have to disclose whether their products include genetically modified ingredients under legislation passed by the House Thursday.
The House bill is backed by the food industry, which has fought mandatory labeling efforts in several states around the country. The legislation, which passed 275-150, would prevent states from requiring package labels to indicate the presence of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
So far, Vermont is the only state set to require the labels. That law will take effect in July 2016 if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry. Maine and Connecticut have also passed laws requiring the labeling, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit.
The country’s largest food companies say genetically modified foods are safe and that labels would be misleading. They say a patchwork of laws around the country would be expensive for companies and confusing for consumers.
“The reality is, biotechnology has time and time again proved safe,” the bill’s sponsor, Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, said on the House floor. “We should not raise prices on consumers based on the wishes of a handful of activists.”
Advocates for the labels say people have a right to know what is in their food and criticize the legislation for trying to take away states’ ability to require the labels.
“What’s the problem with letting consumers know what they are buying?” asked Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat.
Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. It also is made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil.
The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of packaged foods contain genetically modified ingredients.
The Food and Drug Administration has said GMOs are safe, and the federal government does not support mandatory labels. Even so, the House bill would make it harder for the agency to require labeling nationally by laying out additional standards for such a policy.
At the same time, the legislation would step up FDA oversight by requiring that any new genetically engineered products be reviewed by the agency before they can be sold. That process is now voluntary for most modified foods.
The bill would also create a new certification process at the Agriculture Department for foods that are labeled free of GMOs. That would mean anyone wanting to use that label would eventually have to apply. Organic foods would be automatically certified, since they are already required to be free of engineered ingredients.
A December Associated Press-Gaff poll found that two-thirds of Americans support labeling of genetically modified ingredients on food packages.
Many of those who support the labels say they have no problem buying food containing GMOs, but they think there should be more accountability in the food industry. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said Wednesday in a speech opposing the bill that he buys genetically modified foods but thinks it should be a choice.
There is no similar bill in the Senate, although Sen. John Heaven, R-N.D., has said he is working on legislation.
It’s unclear whether President Barack Obama would sign the legislation. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been supportive of genetically modified crops and has praised voluntary labeling solutions like special bar codes on packages to allow consumers to access information via smartphone. But the White House has so far been silent on the House bill.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said after the vote that people who want to know what’s in their food will eventually win the fight.
Americans “are demanding the right to know what’s in their food,” Shumlin said.
MONTPELIER – July 23, 2015 – Gov. Peter Shumlin issued the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation today that would block Vermont from enforcing its mandatory GMO labeling law.
“Monsanto and their corporate food allies have millions of dollars to dedicate to this fight, and today’s vote shows that they are quite skilled in using those vast resources to buy votes in Congress. But here is what Monsanto will never be able to do: Win this fight. Millions of Americans are demanding the right to know what is in their food. And every time Monsanto fights tooth and nail to deny people that right, all they do is grow the ranks of ordinary Americans who are willing to stand up and fight. So this message is for Monsanto: Bring it on. You may have the money, but we have the people. And the people always win.
“I want to thank Congressman Peter Welch for fighting so hard against this bill. In Vermont we are lucky to have a congressional delegation that understands that giving people the right to know what is in their food is simply common sense.”
In recent weeks, major broadcast networks and primetime cable news programs have completely ignored debate and passage of a House bill that would prevent states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from requiring labels for foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Consumer rights advocates, environmental groups, and the vast majority of Americans support the right to know whether foods contain GMOs.
UPDATE: Rep. Conyers Responds To “Lack Of News Coverage” Of Congress’ Anti-GMO Labeling Bill [Media Matters, 7/24/15]
Bill That Would Block States, FDA From Requiring GMO Labels Moving Through Congress
Anti-GMO Labeling Bill Passed By The House Would Nullify States’Laws On Food Labels. On July 23, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would block states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from requiring GMO labels on food products. The bill will now head to the Senate, as McClatchy reported:
A bill that would prevent state and local governments from requiring labels on genetically modified foods passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday after contentious debate, 275-150.
The bill now heads to the Senate. If enacted into law, it would nullify labeling laws that already have passed in three states but have yet to take effect, in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.
At least 15 other states have introduced legislation to impose similar regulations on food made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But it’s been an uphill battle in many places, with strong opposition from the food industry helping to defeat anti-GMO proposals in California and Washington state, among others.
Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas and his Democratic colleague, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, championed the bill that passed the House on Thursday.
Their Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would replace state and local laws with a voluntary GMO-free certification program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. [McClatchy, 7/23/15]
Bill Would Also Allow Companies To Label Food Products “Natural” Even If They Contain Genetically Modified Ingredients. As Iowa Public Radio reported, the House-passed bill “expands the definition of ‘natural’ – already a nebulous term with few strict standards – to include some genetically modified ingredients.” The House rejected an amendment by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) that “would have banned the use of the term ‘natural’ on food that contains a genetically engineered plant,” as The Hill noted. [Iowa Public Radio, 7/23/15; The Hill, 7/23/15]
Environmental Working Group: Bill Would Even ObstructVoluntary GMO Labeling. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) stated that the bill would not only prevent states from implementing mandatory GMO labeling, but would also complicate the process for any food manufacturers to voluntarily label GMO foods, possibly delaying voluntary labeling for years. EWG concluded that “the real intent” of the bill is to stop “both mandatory GMO labeling and voluntary non-GMO claims” (emphasis original):
[S]ection 102 of Pompeo’s bill would make any non-GMO claim a violation of federal labeling law – unless the non-GMO claim was approved through a new certification program to be established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under Pompeo’s bill, it could take the USDA at least a year, and more likely years to set up such a certification program. After all, it took ten years to publish the rule implementing the National Organic Program.
In the meantime, food companies would have no way [to] inform consumers that their products didn’t contain GMO ingredients.
Taken together, it’s clear that the real intent of the new version of the DARK Act is to end all claims related to genetically modified ingredients – including both mandatory GMO labeling and voluntary non-GMO claims. [EWG, 6/22/15]
Major TV News Shows Completely Ignored Bill As It Moved Through House
Broadcast Programs, Primetime Cable Shows Ignored Advancement Of Anti-GMO Labeling Bill.Since it began to be marked up by the House Agriculture Committee on July 14, the major broadcast networks and primetime cable news shows have completely ignored the anti-GMO labeling bill.* [Congress.gov, accessed 7/24/15]
By Contrast, Local CBS Affiliate In Vermont Reported On Bill’s Passage. The House vote did receive coverage on CBS’ local affiliate in Burlington, Vermont. Vermont has passed the strongest mandatory GMO-labeling bill, which is set to take effect in July 2016 but is now at risk. On the July 24 edition of Channel 3 News Early Morning, anchor Eva McKend reported that the House bill “could reverse” Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and that Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell “says the House is listening to Big Food manufacturers rather than helping people.” [WCAX-TV, Channel 3 News Early Morning, 7/24/15]
GMO Labeling Has Widespread Support From Consumer Rights Advocates, Environmental Groups, And Vast Majority Of Americans
Consumer Reports’ Advocacy Arm: House Bill Is “Contrary To What Consumers Clearly Want And Need.” Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to oppose the bill, which it said “is contrary to what consumers clearly want and need.” Consumers Union added that the bill “interferes with the democratic process, and the long-recognized role of states to enact laws that respond to their citizens’ desires for consumer information that helps them make decisions in the marketplace.” [ConsumersUnion.org, 7/17/15]
Center For Food Safety Exec. Dir.: “Corporate Influence Has Won And The Voice Of The People Has Been Ignored.” The Center for Food Safety “expressed deep disappointment” in the bill’s passage, noting in a statement that “over 300 farmer, consumer and environmental groups opposed the bill.” Andrew Kimbrell, the group’s executive director, said the bill’s passage “is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored.” [Center for Food Safety, 7/23/15]
NRDC Attorney: House Is “Trying To Keep Us In The Dark About What Is In Our Food.” Mae Wu, a health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), called the bill “concerning,” and said House members who support the bill are “trying to keep us in the dark about what is in our food.” [NRDC Switchboard, 7/22/15]
EWG: House Voted To “Deny Americans The Right To Know What’s In Their Food.” In a statement on the Environmental Working Group’s website, EWG Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Scott Faber said:
It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans. … Today’s vote to deny Americans the right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown was a foregone conclusion. This House was bought and paid for by corporate interests, so it’s no surprise that it passed a bill to block states and the FDA from giving consumers basic information about their food. [EWG, 7/23/15]
Union of Concerned Scientists: GMO Foods Should Be Labeled So “Consumers Can Make Informed Decisions.” In a section of its website devoted to “Genetic Engineering in Agriculture,” the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) stated that policy makers should “[s]upport food labeling laws that require foods containing [genetically engineered or GE] crops to be clearly identified as such, so that consumers can make informed decisions about supporting GE applications in agriculture.” UCS also said that although the risks from genetic engineering “are often exaggerated or misrepresented,” GE crops still “have the potential to cause a variety of health problems and environmental impacts”:
While the risks of genetic engineering are often exaggerated or misrepresented, GE crops do have the potential to cause a variety of health problems and environmental impacts. For instance, they may spread undesirable traits to weeds and non-GE crops, produce new allergens and toxins, or harm animals that consume them.
At least one major environmental impact of genetic engineering has already reached critical proportions: overuse of herbicide-tolerant GE crops has spurred an increase in herbicide use and an epidemic of herbicide-resistant “superweeds,” which will lead to even more herbicide use.
How likely are other harmful GE impacts to occur? This is a difficult question to answer. Each crop-gene combination poses its own set of risks. While risk assessments are conducted as part of GE product approval, the data are generally supplied by the company seeking approval, and GE companies use their patent rights to exercise tight control over research on their products.
In short, there is a lot we don’t know about the long-term and epidemiological risks of GE–which is no reason for panic, but a good reason for caution, particularly in view of alternatives that are more effective and economical. [Union of Concerned Scientists, accessed 7/24/15]
Associated Press Poll: Strong Majority Of Americans Support GMO Labeling. On January 13, the Associated Press reported that a December AP-GfK poll found that “66 percent of Americans favor requiring food manufacturers to put labels on products that contain genetically modified organisms, or foods grown from seeds engineered in labs. Only 7 percent are opposed to the idea, and 24 percent are neutral.” The AP added that the portion of Americans who say it is very or extremely important to know whether a product contains GMOs is “higher than the share who say it’s important to know whether a food is organic, and about on par with the share saying they consider the amount of protein in a food an important factor.” [Associated Press, 1/13/15] *According to a Nexis search of GMO or “genetically modified” for all news shows on PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC, and the primetime news shows on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN, from when the bill began to be marked up by the House Agriculture Committee on July 14until the time of this publication.
ESSEX JUNCTION – Neil Young had barely said anything to the crowd a half hour into his sold-out concert Sunday night until he and his band got ready to play “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”
Then he paid tribute to the state whose law requiring labeling for a controversial agricultural practice was a big part of the reason he came to Essex Junction.
“Strong Vermont — standing up while other states are lying down!” he yelled to loud cheers.
Young’s appearance — the rock legend’s first-ever headlining show in the state — was more than a concert. It was a chance for Young to spread the word about genetically modified organisms, which he worries might be harmful to the health of people who eat foods containing GMOs.
Vermont passed a law mandating labeling of foods containing GMOs, a law that food manufacturers are fighting in court. Young supports the law and references Vermont’s fight on his new album, “The Monsanto Years.”
A half-dozen booths highlighting agricultural and environmental organizations lined the midway lawn outside the Champlain Valley Exposition’s grandstand, where the concert was held. One booth was run by an organization called GMO Free USA.
Diana Reeves, executive director of GMO Free USA, said Young’s inclusion of her organization on his national tour brings the issue to music fans who might have otherwise not known about it.
“The reception has been very positive,” according to Reeves, who said people in farm-centered communities such as Lincoln, Nebraska have frequented the booth. “When people find out what’s been done to their food they’re horrified.”
Young and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin held a backstage press conference after sound check just before 6 p.m. Sunday. Young announced that he donated $100,000 to Vermont’s legal fight against the GMO-labeling lawsuit and asked the state’s “high rollers” who support the law to do the same.
“I’m just a rock-n-roller who believes people should know what they’re eating,” Young said. “There’s so much that we don’t know, and people deserve freedom of choice.”
Barbara Fitzpatrick and Scott Lynk, a couple from Vergennes, said they’ve been listening to Young’s music since the 1970s. They said they like the variety of his folk-meets-rock music and the quality of his lyrics.
“He always has something to say,” according to Lynk. He also likes that Young told presidential candidate Donald Trump to stop using Young’s song “Rockin’ in the Free World” at campaign events and instead granted use of his song to the presidential candidate Young favors, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
They’re happy that Young is addressing concerns about GMOs. “We would come anyway but we like that he’s taking it on” Fitzpatrick said at a picnic table on the fairground’s midway. She was eating garlic chicken from The Skinny Pancake and the namesake food from Al’s French Frys before the concert.
“When we shop (for food) we know what we’re buying,” she said.
“We try to buy locally” and avoid mass-produced food, Lynk added.
He expected Young’s concert to reach people unfamiliar with concerns about GMOs. “He has a lot of fans,” Lynk said. More than 10,000 of those fans were expected at Sunday’s show.
“People listen to him,” Fitzpatrick said, “and pay attention.”
The House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would thwart Vermont’s requirement to label genetically engineered (GE) foods, moving one step closer to a federal solution in the escalating national debate over food labeling.
If enacted into law, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 would preempt states from requiring GE labels and create a voluntary national labeling regime. The bill, first introduced by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina), has changed through discussions between the House Agriculture Committee and the Commerce Committee.
The legislation would create a program administered by USDA through which foods could be certified as being produced with or without genetic engineering, with a seal identifying covered products. Foods produced through genetic engineering have been in the food supply for about two decades, according to FDA.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) urged the House and Senate to pass the amended bill. The powerful trade association has been fighting Vermont’s attorney general in federal court to overturn the nation’s first GE labeling law. Vermont’s Act 120—requiring labeling of GE foods and preventing such foods from being marketed as “natural”—is set to take effect next summer. Connecticut and Maine also have labeling laws, but they won’t take effect unless neighboring states pass similar legislation.
Just Label It, an organization that favors mandatory labeling of bioengineered foods, on Monday blasted the latest version of Pompeo’s bill. Critics last year dubbed the legislation the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.
Among other provisions that have angered critics, the House bill would prevent states and local governments from imposing any requirements regarding GE plants that are not identical to a requirement under section 461 of the Plant Protection Act (PPA). USDA is responsible for ensuring GE plants pose no risk of pests to other plants.
“The DARK Act has always been a bad bill, but these new provisions are a drastic government overreach by undermining the ability of state or local governments from placing safeguards around production of GMO crops,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the yogurt maker Stonyfield and chairman of Just Label It, in a statement. “Moreover, we know consumers already believe so-called ‘natural’ foods are GMO-free, and this bill will write that confusion into law.”
The House legislation would require FDA to examine the safety profile of new GE foods, replacing a voluntary consultation process that is currently in effect. As of 2012, FDA had completed 95 consultations on a number of crops, including canola, corn, cottonwood and soybean.
A number of government and research bodies have not identified safety concerns with GE foods, but consumers and others continue to question the effects of genetic engineering on the environment and whether bioengineered foods are truly benign. Consumer advocacy groups say consumers have a right to know what is in their food and point to 64 countries around the world that require labels on GE foods.
FDA would have authority under the bill to require labeling on GE foods, but only if two requirements were satisfied. First, the agency would need to find “a meaningful difference in the functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity, or other attributes between” the relevant food and a comparable food. Second, the labeling disclosure must be “necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading.”
In testimony last month on Capitol Hill, Vermont Assistant Attorney General Todd Daloz urged lawmakers to reject the House legislation.
The bill not only would kill Vermont’s Act 120, Daloz said, it would “provide only an incomplete federal structure for the labeling of GE foods, and one that lacks any meaningful statutory standards and places much, if not all, of the responsibility for creating the structure in the hands of a federal agency.”
ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. —With less than a year until Vermont’s GMO law goes into effect, music legend, Neil Young met with Gov. Peter Shumlin to voice his opinion about the GMO labeling controversy.
“I’m just a rock and roller who believes people should know what they’re eating,” Young said.
In his first trip to the Green Mountain State in years, Neil Young had more than just singing on the agenda.
“He called me out of the blue about ten days ago and said, ‘I’m coming to Vermont. I want to help you raise money for the Vermont food fight so you can beat Monsanto, beat the big corporations,’” Shumlin said.
Young has been vocal in the past about transparency in the food industry. Many manufactured foods contain ingredients whose DNA was altered in a lab to improve efficiency. Next year, a new law will take effect that would require food manufacturers to let consumers know if their foods contain GMOs.
“We knew Monsanto and the food manufacturers would sue us. They have, we are now raising money through the Vermont food fight fund to fight back against Monsanto. This is a simple example of corporate greed against people’s right to know what’s in their food and make an informed choice,” Shumlin said.
Before Sunday, the state had raised $450,000. Young donated $100,000 from his ticket sales.
“We would like to see some of the high rollers to come out and match that. Because if you got it, break it out,” Young said.
“This food fight is so critically important because if we win in Vermont, we’ll win in America,” Shumlin said.
If things go as planned, the law will take effect July 2016.
The national fight over whether to require labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods has increasingly shifted from the state legislatures to the U.S. Congress.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, last month introduced modified legislation that would not only preempt states from requiring GE labels, local governments and states would be barred from restricting crops that have been genetically modified, according to the nonprofit Center for Food Safety. Opposing legislation in Congress would create a national mandatory labeling standard for GMOs.
“Increasingly this fight has come to Washington D.C. and now legislatures are battling over whether states will retain the right to label genetically engineered foods,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs with the Center for Food Safety, in a phone interview. “We’ve seen legislation introduced on both sides of the issue.”
“If enacted as drafted, H.R. 1599 would have two central, and in my view, negative effects,” Daloz testified, referencing Pompeo’s bill. “The first would be to immediately—upon enactment—cancel existing legislation like Vermont’s Act 120. The second would be to provide only an incomplete federal structure for the labeling of GE foods, and one that lacks any meaningful statutory standards and places much, if not all, of the responsibility for creating the structure in the hands of a federal agency.”
In introducing a version of the bill last year, Pompeo said his legislation affirmed the authority of the FDA to require a label for foods that are considered unsafe and would eliminate the potential for a patchwork of state regulations that could drive up food costs, mislead consumers and burden farmers.
Pompeo’s bill, however, may not have adequate support to get through both chambers of Congress. “This bill faces a really steep climb in the Senate,” said the Center for Food Safety’s O’Neil, “where no Senate Democrat has come out saying they are willing to cosponsor such a preemption bill.”
Only one state in the nation has a GE labeling law that is set to take effect soon: Vermont. That is unless the judiciary finds Act 120 unconstitutional.
“It’s no secret a lot of legislators were waiting to see what happened in Vermont and given the judge’s initial decision, I think that gives state legislators a little more confidence to move forward on this,” O’Neil said.
Supplements and GMO Labels
Whether dietary supplements will be subject to state labeling measures remains to be seen. Under a final rule implementing Act 120, dietary supplements are excluded from the definition of food.
“Our read of the statute was that the Legislature was focused on providing consumers with information about grocery food items and not on the labeling of a tangential category like supplements,” Daloz explained in an emailed statement. “That’s not to say supplements will always be excluded from labeling, but they are currently.”
Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now, a group in favor of GMO labeling, said last year in a phone interview that the “main fight” is not over whether supplements should be labeled.
“People are going into grocery stores and really having no idea what they are feeding their families,” Murphy said. “We believe that people are eating food three times a day. Mothers and families eating their food should know how it’s produced.”
Connecticut and Maine also have passed GE labeling laws that define food broadly, but they don’t take effect unless neighboring states pass similar legislation and it’s unknown whether rules implementing the laws would bring supplements within their scope.
Still, the industry is taking interest in the labeling debate. For instance, the Natural Products Association (NPA) supports a federal solution.
“NPA supports and encourages the voluntary labeling of non GMO foods,” the trade association explains on its website. “NPA believes that consideration of federal law promoting a uniform standard is warranted to avoid separate standards for GMO labeling at the state level.”
At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we strongly support labels that give consumers valuable, meaningful information about the products they purchase—whether it’s for food, cars, or any other product.
For more than 20 years, we’ve supported the labeling of genetically engineered foods, also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. And consumers agree with us about GMO labeling. Survey after survey, including our own, has shown that more than 90 percent of consumers want GMO foods to be labeled accordingly. Some 64 countries currently require GMO labeling, and several states, including Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, have passed legislation requiring GMO labeling.
But legislation currently moving through Congress would bring these and any future efforts to an end by prohibiting GMO labeling requirements at the local, state, and federal level. The misleadingly named Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, introduced by Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) would also make current federal voluntary labeling policy permanent, even though these guidelines have not produced a GMO-labeled product in their 15-year history.
And that’s not all. A new draft version of this anti-consumer legislation that is being discussed in the House of Representatives is far more sweeping, also barring states and local communities from regulating genetically modified crops in other ways. Several counties in California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington have measures in place that restrict where GMO crops can be grown. The bill would nullify these measures.
Moreover, this new version would also further prevent businesses from creating voluntary labels for non-engineered products that are more stringent than a yet-to-be-determined U.S. Department of Agriculture standard. For example, the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, which now appears on thousands of products, establishes a threshold of GMO contamination (0.9 percent). This legislation, however, could potentially force such meaningful non-GMO labeling programs to weaken their standards.
Consumers Union strongly opposes this legislation and has called on lawmakers repeatedly to reject it. In letters to Congress, we have also voiced support for other legislative efforts, such as the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act introduced by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) that would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled and recognize consumers’ right to know what they’re buying.
And we need your help with GMO labeling. Consumers Union encourages you to make your voice heard and share your support for GMO labeling with your members of Congress. Visit NotInMyFood.org to take action and send Congress the message that you want, and have the right, to know what’s in you food.
By Martin E. Levin
May. 16, 2015 Full Article
A federal court has just turned back industry efforts to stop Vermont from enforcing its first-in-the-nation law requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods. Similar labeling legislation is now pending in Massachusetts, and has the support of over 75 percent of the Legislature.
One day after the court decision, a group calling itself the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food pressed the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill (H.R. 1599) that would prohibit such labeling in Vermont, Massachusetts, and every other state. The Coalition includes the four large food trade associations that were unsuccessful in the court case, as well as companies such as Monsanto and Dow – each big agrichemical companies at the forefront of developing and marketing genetically engineered seed.
Independent polls have found that 90 percent of consumers want to know which foods on the grocery shelves were the result of genetic modification taking place in biotech labs over the past two decades, rather than traditional agricultural methods developed over hundreds of years. The Coalition asserts that labeling will confuse consumers and cost them more money at the checkout counter. But the confusion being sown is in no small part due to the lengths, and costs, to which labeling opponents go to defeat consumer demand for transparency.
Coalition claims about genetically engineered seed include that they are good for the environment, increase crop yield, and help keep food production costs down. But the Monsanto seed largely responsible for converting over 80 percent of U.S. corn and soy fields to genetically engineered crops was developed to permit the use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup, even during the growing season. Through genetic manipulation, Monsanto developed corn and soy that could survive glyphosate applications that kill surrounding weeds. The outcome after 20 years of cultivation, as reported by the USGS: Glyphosate use has rocketed from 5,000 to over 80,000 metric tons per year, and glyphosate and its related degradation product now occur widely in the environment. Unsurprisingly, a study published last year in the peer-reviewed journal, Food Chemistry, found high glyphosate and related residues on genetically engineered soybeans, while conventionally and organically grown soybeans had none. Moreover, independent scientific research and reviews have concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, and that glyphosate-based herbicides promote antibiotic resistance.
Independent research has also challenged claims of increased crop yield. For example, one study, published last year in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, analyzed 50 years of yield data for U.S. Midwest corn production and production in comparable corn-growing areas of Western Europe. Western Europe, which has largely rejected the genetic engineering approach promoted in the U.S., had corn yields similar to or slightly higher than the U.S.
Nor do claims of lower cost of production acknowledge the costs to develop and bring a genetically engineered product to market. One study put that cost at $136 million, and this does not even account for the many “false starts” that die in the lab. Seeking to maximize profit in the face of such high R&D costs, agribusiness vigorously defends its patents on its seed. Agribusiness will only “license” farmers to use its genetically engineered seed from year to year, rather than permitting farmers to save seed from one season for reuse in the next. Claims that labeling will cause prices of genetically engineered foods to spike ring hollow when coming from an industry that has been willing to pay over $100 million in the past three years to beat back labeling referenda in a handful of western states.
In light of these and other concerns, what consumers want is something simple – to be told whether foods offered in their grocery stores are part of a production method different in nature from what preceded it for many hundreds of years. Then, they can choose to buy or not. There is nothing confusing about that.
Martin E. Levin, formerly Massachusetts’ chief environmental prosecutor, practices environmental law in Framingham.