By DENISE ROBBINS & ANDREW SEIFTER
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 Obstruct Voluntary 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 14 until the time of this publication.