Bills in Congress and Maine to require labels for genetically engineered foods

By Ramona du Houx - April 29th, 2013 

Over a hundred people protested in favor of a bill before the legislature demanding labels on ford that has been grown by seeds that have been genetically changed.

On April 24th U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Peter DeFazio introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, legislation that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clearly label genetically engineered foods know as genetically modified organisms, (GMOs), so that consumers can make informed choices about what they buy.

Maine’s Congressman Chellie Pingree is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“GMO labeling is an issue I’ve cared deeply about for a long time and is one of the things I hear most often about from constituents,” said Pingree. “I think people have a right to know exactly what they’re feeding themselves and their families. The choice of whether to eat GMO food is best left to the consumer–but there’s no choice to make if we don’t provide them the information.”

According to recent surveys, more than 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods. And many consumers were surprised to learn that GEO foods are not already labeled.

“Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families,” said Senator Boxer. “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.”

In Maine, On April 23rd, more than 100 people spoke in favor of a bill at a state house hearing that proposes labeling genetically modified food. The Agricultural, Conservation and Forestry Committee hearing lasted seven hours and only eight others spoke in opposition.

Seed-producing farmers in Maine are concerned that the new, genetically engineered crops will cross pollinate by insect or wind, and wipe out entire heirloom varieties. For Johnny’s Seeds of Maine cross-pollination would be disastrous.

Currently, in the state, some farmers are planting corn, soybeans and sugar beet seeds that have already been genetically altered.

Rep. Lance Harvell’s bill, An Act to Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock, would require food containing genetically modified organisms, (GMOs), to be labeled in Maine if five other states join in or if one state, with a total population of 20 million or more, joins this proposed interstate compact.

The committee requested a legal opinion from Attorney General Janet Mills on the constitutionality of the bill.

All Harvell said he wants is to give consumers the GMO information on labels, “At least put the information out there and let us decide,” he said. 123 legislators have signed on as co-sponsors to the proposed bill.

The congressional legislation 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.

Currently, the FDA requires the labeling of over 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes. In a 1992 policy statement, the FDA allowed GEO 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.

The FDA overlooked the wide array of genetic and molecular changes to food that can’t be detected by human senses. GEO that corn is engineered to survive being doused by herbicides is materially different from traditional corn but looks and smells basically the same. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recognized that these foods are materially different and novel for patent purposes.

More than one and a half million Americans have filed comments with the FDA urging the agency to label GEO foods. Sixty-four countries around the world already require the labeling of GEO foods.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association are strong supporters of the Maine bill as well as the proposal before congress.