(Beyond Pesticides, February 28, 2013) Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) announced last Wednesday that he intends to co-sponsor a bill in Congress along with Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to mandate the labeling of food containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in the U.S. Earlier this week, the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee held a public hearing on state House Bill 0903, which would set requirements for labeling and disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients in food. Other state labeling efforts have been launched in California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, Missouri and Washington.
More than 90 percent of Americans believe that foods with GE ingredients should be required to be labeled; however, Rep. Polis recognizes that it is still going to be tough to get enough votes to pass. Corporate opponents have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying against GE labeling, and a bill introduced in the state of Colorado by Representative Jeanne Labuda (D-Denver) to label GE foods was stopped after just five hours of testimony. The House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee in Denver voted 7-2 against the bill just a day after Rep. Polis’ announcement. Despite testimony from concerned consumers, parents, and health advocates, the committee said the law would unfairly burden farmers and agricultural businesses, shifting the costs to consumers.
However, as it stands now, the current lax regulations of genetically engineered crops in the U.S. unfairly shifts the cost to organic growers and consumers. Wind-pollinated and bee-pollinated crops, such as corn and alfalfa, have high risks of cross pollination between GE crops and unmodified varieties. Beyond Pesticides’ goal is to push for labeling as a means of identifying products containing GE ingredients, giving consumers the right to choose.
“I am proud to help lead the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Labeling Bill, which is all about consumer choice and information,” Polis said in a news release. “It’s important to empower people with the information they need to make their own healthy choices. People have the right to make consumer decisions based on accurate transparency in labeling, and knowledge is power.”
The announcement was held at a press conference at local food grocer, Alfalfa’s Market. Mark Retzloff, organic foods pioneer, co-founder and President of Alfalfa’s said, “As someone who has devoted his life and 43-year career to ensuring consumers have access to healthy organic foods, I think that consumers have a right to know how their food is produced, and the vast majority of consumers polled say they want to know if their food has been genetically modified. A federal labeling standard for GMO ingredients is the best choice for consumers and product manufacturers, as it provides transparency on the label and requires the same labeling standard for all manufacturers, regardless of their location or production methods.”
GE food is prevalent in our food supply, however consumers have little ability to identify which products contain them:
- Over 50 countries around the world have significant restrictions or bans on GE foods.
- According to a recent Washington Post article, 94% of Americans believe genetically modified foods should be labeled.
- An estimated 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered and 91 percent of soybeans.
- An estimated 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves—from soda to soup, crackers to condiments—contain genetically engineered ingredients.
- The organic food business, which is under threat from the uncontained spread of GE food, is estimated at 30 billion dollars a year in the U.S.
- Mandatory labeling requirements for genetically engineered food produced in the United States would facilitate national trade by allowing American farmers and companies to export and appropriately market their products to foreign customers.
The GE Labeling bill:
- States that consumers have a right to know whether the food they purchase contains or was produced with genetically engineered material.
- Defines the term genetically modified organism, including plants, animals and fish, and requires labeling.
- Provides a framework of civil penalties for violations.
For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage. The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.
For a discussion on federal and local GE labeling efforts and what we can do to protect food security and biodiversity including strategies to move forward, join us for our 31st National Pesticide Forum in New Mexico April 5-6. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety will be joined by local organic farmers and organizers, including: Eleanor Bravo of Food and Water Watch—NM, who helped with New Mexico’s labeling bill, and Isaura Andaluz, executive director of Cuatro Puertas and the only member of AC21 to dissent the report on strengthening coexistence among agricultural production methods because of the undue burden it places on organic farmers. For more information and to register, go to www.beyondpesticides.org/forum.
Sources: Food Safety News
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.