WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate passed S.764 the evening of July 7. The bill included a provision to address the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food.
Opponents of genetically engineered food say failing to label foods denies citizens the right to choose what they eat and feed their families and overrides all state efforts to label genetically engineered food, such as the laws already passed in Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont.
Genetic engineering (GE) refers to a set of technologies used to change the genetic make-up of cells to produce novel organisms that exhibit a desired trait, such as plants that are herbicide resistant or able to produce their own pesticides. This technology has found a foot hold in the American food and farming system; more than 90 percent of the “big four” crops grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered. GE crops, also referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are now commonplace on supermarket shelves.
GE crops are typically grown with chemicals that are toxic to our environment and to people. By purchasing GE foods, people are inadvertently contributing to a system of farming that is unhealthy for them and the planet. Unfortunately, people have little way of knowing if they are buying GE foods, as grocery manufacturers and biotech firms have successfully lobbied against mandatory GE food labels.
“We are disappointed that this bill, negotiated behind closed doors with a handful of special interests, was fast tracked on the Senate agenda with not a single hearing, despite the repeated finding that 9 nine out of 10 U.S. consumers want clear labeling of food containing genetically engineered ingredients,” said Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. “What has been hailed as a great ‘compromise’ is a gift to biotech and food manufacturing companies, who will have three options for disclosure, one of which is a digital code that will require shoppers to stand in grocery store aisles with their smartphones, scan their purchases, and visit a website, before they have the information they need to make purchases. The bill contains no enforcement provisions and many—perhaps most—GE ingredients will be exempt from any labeling requirement. Passage of this bill means that U.S. citizens will be prevented from having the same rights as those in 64 other nations: the right to know if they are consuming food containing GE ingredients.”
According to Lipstreu, the USDA and the FDA issued what appear to be conflicting analyses of the bill. Questions remain as to what GE products will be labeled and how the labeling requirements will co-exist with other federally mandated labeling requirements. Despite these outstanding issues, the Senate passed the measure by a 63-30 margin.
“Now is the time for President Obama to act on his campaign statements that the public has a right to know if their food is genetically engineered and veto the bill if it comes to his desk,” Lipstreu added. “We have time to develop a national standard in the light of day and with the input of concerned citizens, scientists, and sustainable agriculture and food interests that relies on a clear label that simply states that the food includes GE ingredients.”
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has been working to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, meets the growing consumer demand for local food, creates economic opportunities for our rural communities, and safeguards the environment since 1979. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.