The Senate on Thursday rejected an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders to let states require clear labels on any food or beverage containing genetically engineered ingredients. The vote on the amendment to the farm bill was 26 to 73. "This is the very first time a bill on labeling genetically engineered food has been brought before the Senate. It was opposed by virtually every major food corporation in the country. While we wish we could have gotten more votes, this is a good step forward and something we are going to continue to work on. The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what's in the food that they eat."
In the past year, 36 bills dealing with the labeling of genetically engineered foods have been introduced in Vermont, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia.
The Vermont Legislature considered a bill that would have required labels on genetically engineered food products. Despite House Agriculture Committee support, however, the measure was stymied after the chemical giant Monsanto threatened to sue the state.
Co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sanders' amendment would have made clear that states have the authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering.
In the United States, Sanders said, food labels already must list more than 3,000 ingredients ranging from high-fructose corn syrup to trans-fats. Unlike 49 countries around the world, however, foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients do not have to be labeled in the U.S.
The measure also would have required the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report to Congress within two years on the percentage of food and beverages in the United States that contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Pro-consumer organizations backing the Sanders amendment included the Center for Food Safety; Union of Concerned Scientists; National Farmers Union; Environmental Working Group; American Public Health Association; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Public Citizen; U.S. PIRG; New England Farmers Union; Environment America; National Cooperative Grocers Association; Friends of the Earth; the Sierra Club and others.
The American Medical Association House of Delegates adopted a formal statement in opposition to the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered, or bioengineered, foods. (Note: the organization did not consider or take a position on the California food labeling ballot measure). The vote took place at the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago.
The AMA formal statement reads, in part: “Our AMA believes that as of June 2012, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education.”
“The AMA’s rejection of mandatory labeling i s consistent with the overwhelming majority of respected medical doctors, scientists and health experts that have concluded that foods made with the benefits of modern biotechnology are safe, and that labeling of these foods is unnecessary,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition.
A story from Law360 about the vote can be found here.
About the California Ballot Measure
The proposition would ban the sale of tens of thousands of common and perfectly safe grocery products that contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, unless they are specially repackaged, relabeled or made using non-GE ingredients just for sale in California. This measure is riddled with loopholes, lawsuits, new bureaucracy and red tape that will cost consumers and taxpayers millions while providing absolutely no benefits.
The measure exempts two-thirds of the foods people eat every day from labeling requirements, including meat, eggs, dairy, alcohol and foods sold in restaurants, even if these foods contain genetically engineered ingredients.
And in order to avoid putting scary-sounding labels on their products, food producers and family farmers will be forced to switch to more expensive ingredients, like organics, and families’ food costs will go up by hundreds of dollars per year.
This measure would also create a whole new category of lawsuits allowing trial lawyers to sue family farmers, small grocers and food companies so they can extract legal fees and settlements. The independent state legislative analyst says the measure will cost the state and its taxpayers millions of dollars to carry out and for the cost of lawsuits.
There have been more than 300 independent medical studies on the health and safety of foods made using genetically engineered ingredients. The World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association and many others have all come to the conclusion that foods made using GE ingredients are safe, and are not materially different than other foods. As a result, the FDA does not require labels on foods with genetically engineered ingredients because these labels will only serve to confuse and mislead consumers into thinking these food products are unsafe, which isn’t true.
Organizations opposed to the measure include the California Farm Bureau Federation, California Chamber of Commerce, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, California Taxpayer Protection Committee, California Women for Agriculture, Council for Biotechnology Information, California Retailers Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Southern California Black Chamber of Commerce, Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce, California League of Food Processors and many others. The coalition continues to grow each day. A full list can be found here.