House Bills Introduced to Compel Mandatory Labeling for GMO Foods

House Bills Introduced to Compel Mandatory Labeling for GMO Foods


Ask Your Representative to Co-Sponsor HR 3553

In December 2011, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio introduced three pieces of legislation to address genetically engineered food/seed issues. 

H.R. 3553: Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act

H.R. 3554: Genetically Engineered Safety Act

H.R. 3555: Genetically Engineered Technology Farmer Protection Act

Congressman Kucinich has introduced similar bills several times since 1999. At present there is no matching Senate bill. However, Senator Barbara Boxer of California has previously introduced mandatory labeling legislation and currently is building awareness and support for mandatory labeling through a Dear Colleague letter

For more than two decades consumers have pushed back against food industry attempts to place genetically modified foods in the family grocery cart. Originally referred to as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO or GM), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) often uses the term “bioengineered” and legislators and others have adopted the term genetically engineered (GE). Throughout this article, the various terms GE, GM, and GMO will all be referred to with the acronym GE.   

There are dozens of groups that are working in a loose coalition to suspend the approval, commercialization, and release of any new genetically engineered crops and animal species until or unless they are thoroughly tested and found safe for human health and the environment. Additionally, these groups support moves to require foods that already contain genetically engineered ingredients to be clearly labeled.

Congressman Kucinich has provided the following bullet points as an outline of the 3-piece framework of legislation: 

I. HR 3553: The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act:

Requires food companies to label all foods that contain or are produced with genetically engineered (GE) material and requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to

periodically test products to ensure compliance;

Authorizes voluntary, non-GE food labels, exempting food served in restaurants;

Establishes a legal framework to ensure the accuracy of labeling without creating significant economic hardship on the food production system.

19 cosponsors (bi-partisan) as of February 28

 

II. H.R.3554: The Genetically Engineered Safety Act:

Requires the FDA to screen all GE foods through the current food additive process to ensure safety for human consumption. Continues FDA discretion in applying the safety factors that are generally recognized as appropriate;

Places a temporary moratorium on pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops until all regulations required by the bill are in effect;

Requires that unique concerns regarding GE foods be explicitly examined in the review process; provides for a phase out of antibiotic resistance markers; implements a prohibition on known allergens; and requires the FDA to conduct a public comment period of at least 30 days;

Places a permanent moratorium on pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops grown in an open-air environment and on pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops grown in a commonly used food source;

Requires the United States Department of Agriculture to establish a tracking system to regulate the growing, handling, transportation, and disposal of all pharmaceutical and industrial crops and their byproducts to prevent contamination;

Calls on the National Academy of Sciences to submit to Congress a report that explores alternative methods to produce pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals that have the advantage of being conducted in controlled production facilities and do not present the risk of contamination.

3 co-sponsors as of February 28

 

III. H.R.3555: The Genetically Engineered Technology Farmer Protection Act:

Farmers may save seeds and seek compensation for failed genetically engineered crops;

Biotech companies may not: shift liability to farmers; nor require access to farmer’s property; nor mandate arbitration; nor mandate court of jurisdiction; nor require damages beyond actual fees; nor charge more to American farmers for use of this technology than they charge farmers in other nations, or any other unfair condition;

Seed companies must: ensure seeds labeled non-GE are accurate; provide clear instructions to reduce cross-pollination, which contaminates other fields; and inform farmers of the risks of using genetically engineered crops;

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to evaluate the concern of Bt resistant pests and take actions necessary to prevent resistance to Bt, an important organic pesticide;

Prohibits genetic engineering designed to produce sterile seeds;

Loan discrimination based on the choice of seeds an agricultural producer uses is prohibited;

Place all liability from negative impacts of genetically engineered organisms squarely upon the biotechnology companies that created the genetically engineered organism;

Farmers are granted indemnification to protect them from the liabilities of biotech companies;

Prohibits any transfer of liability away from the biotechnology companies that created the genetically engineered organism.

4  co-sponsors as of February 28

 

What is Genetic Engineering?  HR 3553 defines the term “genetically engineered organism” as “(A) an organism that has been altered at the molecular or cellular level by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes (including but not limited to recombinant DNA and RNA techniques, cell fusion, microencapsulation, macroencapsulation, gene deletion and doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes), other than a means consisting exclusively of breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, tissue culture, or mutagenesis; and (B) an organism made through sexual or asexual reproduction (or both) involving an organism described in subparagraph (A), if possessing any of the altered molecular or cellular characteristics of the organism so described.“  

The legislation goes on to explain that a food shall be considered to have been produced with a genetically engineered material if “(A) the organism (including fish) from which the food is derived has been injected or otherwise treated with a genetically engineered material (except that the use of manure as a fertilizer for raw agricultural commodities may not be construed to mean that such commodities are produced with a genetically engineered material), (B) the animal (including fish) from which the food is derived has been fed genetically engineered material, or (C) the food contains an ingredient that is a food to which clause (A) or (B) applies.”

What Are the Current GE/GMO Foods?  Genetically engineered crops are typically crafted to be insect resistant (IR) or herbicide tolerant (HT). HT crops are designed to survive direct spraying of herbicides, like Ready Roundup, while the weeds in the field are killed. IR crops have had a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis inserted and are often referenced as Bt. The bacteria produce a protein that is toxic to insects. “Stacked” is the term used to describe varieties which have both Ht and Bt engineering. In the United States, GE crops include corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, and squash.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), genetically engineered corn, cotton, and soybeans have been planted in the United States in increasing amounts since 1996.  The charts below show the trend:


USDA data show that HT soybeans went from 17 percent of U.S. soybean acreage in 1997 to 68 percent in 2001, and 94 percent in 2011. Plantings of HT cotton expanded from about 10 percent of U.S. acreage in 1997 to 56 percent in 2001, and 73 percent in 2011. The adoption of HT corn, which had been slower in previous years, has accelerated, reaching 72 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2011.

Natural News reported recently that Wal-Mart plans to start selling GE corn without notifying customers. The same source reports that most High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and other corn-derived products are now mostly made from GE/GMO corn. Online Activists have taken to calling Monsanto’s Bt sweet corn “Frankencorn.”

The Animal Kingdom is Affected As Well:  According to the FDA, “Many kinds of GE animals are in development. At this time, the largest class of GE animals are being developed for biopharm purposes—that is, they are intended to produce substances (for example, in their milk or blood) that can be used as human or animal pharmaceuticals. Another group of GE animals are under development for use as sources of scarce cells, tissues, or organs for transplantation into humans (xenotransplant sources). Yet others are intended for use as food and may be disease resistant, or have improved nutritional or growth characteristics. And others include animals that produce high value industrial or consumer products, such as highly specific antimicrobials against human and animal pathogens (e.g., E. coli 0157 or Salmonella)…. In general, most GE animals contain an rDNA construct that was introduced into early embryos or cells that go on to make embryos that develop into the GE animal. These constructs are heritable because they will be in every cell of the resulting animal, including those that are responsible for making sperm and egg for the next generation. The term “GE animal” thus includes all the animals descended from the initial GE animal that have inherited the rDNA construct. This is different from the term “animal clone,” which does not include the sexually-derived offspring of animal clones.”

There is also concern among consumers about animals being fed GE feed. Just as we belatedly learned from the use of hormones and antibiotics in the raising of dairy cows, GE feed has the potential for negatively impacting the health of consumers. Last year legislators from Alaska were successful in blocking the release of GE salmon into the wild.

Industry Has Not Proven Safety:  Currently 29 countries have farms with 365 million acres of GE crops planted, while 60 countries, including Japan, allow GE crops to be imported for food and animal feed. Biotech is big business. Monsanto, Bayer and other biotech firms made more than $13 billion from the sale of their seeds in 2011.

There are many gaps in our knowledge of the actual effects on humans who consume GE crops and animals. The industry leader, Monsanto, takes the position that GE foods are “substantially equivalent,” meaning they consider GE foods identical to non genetically engineered foods, and that “food derived from authorized genetically-modified (GM) crops is as safe as conventional (non-GM-derived) food.”  Shockingly, Monsanto contends that no studies to validate safety in humans are needed. “There is no need to test the safety of DNA introduced into GM crops.  DNA (and resulting RNA) is present in almost all foods—the only exception being highly refined materials like oil or sugars from which all cell material has been removed. Thus, DNA is non-toxic and the presence of DNA, in and of itself, presents no hazard.”

This is in strong contrast to a recently released toxicology study looking at the combined effects of genetically modified plants with stacked traits. The authors of this study conclude that “Modified Bt toxins are not inert on nontarget human cells, and they can present combined side-effects with other residues of pesticides specific to GM plants.”[1]  

Jeffrey Smith, author of Genetic Roulette, the Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, provides an extensive documentation of the risks. For example:

Smith notes that in 2006, two experts in the field (Traavik and Heinemann) concluded, “Some of the most crucial scientific questions concerning the health effects of genetic engineering (GE) and genetically engineered organisms were raised up to 20 years ago.  Most of them still have not been answered at all, or have found unsatisfactory answers.” 

I highly recommend Smith’s book for anyone interested in this topic. Every source of data is referenced and the format is consumer friendly in its presentation of sometimes highly technical material.

The implications for human health are vast, especially in vulnerable populations—the unborn, children, and individuals of all ages with immune system challenges, such as autoimmune disorders and compromised immune function. Additionally there are concerns about fertility, low birth weight, behavioral changes in offspring, digestive system irregularities, asthma, endocrine disruption, and increases in food allergies, to name a few. 

Mandatory Labeling the First Step:  Clearly there is much that needs to be done. The first step is to mandate labeling to protect consumers’ freedom to either choose these products or else avoid them altogether. As someone with strong libertarian leanings, I feel this labeling is needed to insure that consumers have accurate information on the labels of all foods available for purchase. This labeling will not be any more expensive to implement than other labeling, and should be accepted by the food industry just as it has accepted truthful labeling on nuts, trans fats, and gluten content in foods. 

 

For two decades, more than 90 percent of Americans surveyed have expressed a desire to have GE foods labeled.

 

Poll/Survey Results on GE/GMO Food Labeling

2/ 2011

 

MSNBC

96% of over 45,000 voters believe genetically modified foods should be labeled

10/10

Thompson Reuters and National Public Radio

93% of Americans believe all GE foods should be labeled as such; only 35% willing to eat GE fish

9/10

Washington Post

95% agree that genetically modified foods should be labeled.

9/2010

KSTP St. Paul/Minneapolis

95% believe genetically modified salmon should carry a different label

11/08

Consumer Reports

95% thought food from genetically engineered animals should be labeled and 78% strongly agreed

6/2001

ABC News

3% of American want the Federal Government to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

11/2001

Rutgers University’ Food Policy Institute study

90% of Americans said foods created through genetic engineering processes should have special labels on them

9/2001

Farm Foundation/Kansas State University, survey of farms throughout the U.S

90% of American farmers support labels on biotech products if they are scientifically different from conventional foods and 61% support labels on
biotech products even if not scientifically different.

3/2001

Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology poll, March 2001

75% of Americans say it is important to them to know whether a food product contains genetically modified ingredients

6/2000

Harriss Poll

86% of Americans think that the government should require the labeling of all packaged and other food products stating that they include corn, soy or other products which have come from genetically modified crops

2/2000

USA Today

79% of Americans said it should not be legal to sell genetically modified fruits and vegetables without special labels

3/2000

International Communications Research

86% of Americans want labels on genetically engineered foods

1/2000

MSNBC Live Vote Results

81% of Americans think the government should require genetically engineered food products to be labeled. 89% of Americans think the government should require pre-market safety testing of genetically engineered foods before they are marketed, as with any food additive.

9/1999

BSMG Worldwide for the Grocery Manufacturers of America

92% of Americans support legal requirements that all genetically engineered foods be labeled.

1/1999

Time magazine

 

81% of American consumers believe GE food should be labeled. 58% say that if GE foods were labeled they would avoid purchasing them.

9/1999

Edelman Public Relations Worldwide in Bloomberg News

Almost 70% of Americans think the U.S. government should require more extensive labeling of ingredients in genetically engineered food.

1998

National Federation of Women’s Institutes

93% of women surveyed say they want all GE food clearly labeled.

2/1997

Novartis

93% of Americans who responded to a Novartis survey agree that GE foods should be labeled as such. 73% of those agree strongly with the position.

6/1995

USDA

84% of 604 New Jersey residents polled want mandatory labeling of GE fruits and vegetables, 60% would consider buying fresh vegetables if they were labeled as having been produced by genetic engineering and 76% favor farmers voluntarily putting labels on their produce that say the items were not genetically engineered.

1995

USDA

94% of 1,900 consumers polled believed that milk should be labeled to distinguish milk from rbGH-treated cows, 10% of milk drinkers say they buy their products from non-treated cows and more than 74% of consumers say they are concerned about the possible discovery of negative long-term effects on human health associated with rbGH.

2/1995

Vance Publishing, in Food R&D

92% of 36,000 polled say they want GE food labeled, with a 94% pro-labeling response from women and a 84% pro-labeling response from men

3/1994

PRODIGY Internet company

81% of 8,000 subscribers to PRODIGY Internet service think that milk containers should be labeled to indicate whether or not the milk comes from cows treated with rbGH. 92% of women; 78% of men

2/1994

St. Norbert College and Wisc. Pub. Radio

88% of respondents favor mandatory labeling from rbGH-treated cows, 9% oppose mandatory labeling and 3% are unsure

1992

USDA

85% of those polled think that labeling of GE food is “very important”

 

HR 3553 Needs More Support:  In the current political climate, it is unlikely that Congressman Kucinich will be able to move all three pieces of legislation to passage by the end of the year.  However, HR 3553: The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act already has bipartisan support, and with substantially more cosponsors we can achieve forward motion. Right now we have 19 sponsors, and we need 10 times that many.

Please Get InvolvedDo you know where your legislator stands on these issues?  (If you do not know who represents you in Congress, please visit http://house.gov/representatives/ and insert your Zip+4 code in the search engine at the top right corner.)  Make a point of calling your representative and asking him or her to co-sponsor HR3553. When you call in, ask to speak to the person responsible for agricultural issues. Go to town hall meetings, or ask for a personal meeting in the district office with your representative to discuss the issues.  Congress members, especially in an election year, like to be able to say yes to their constituents whenever possible.  As someone who has worked on Capitol Hill, I know the value of these calls. Constituent communication supportive of legislation such as HR 3553 is vital when a legislator is looking to take a stand on an issue opposed by industrial powerhouses such as Monsanto. 

The topic of genetic engineering is an intense and extensive issue. This article has not addressed a number of important issues, such as contamination of organic farms, drug development in plants grown in open-air fields with unevaluated risks, risks to native species of salmon from GE species, and misrepresentation of the benefits of higher crop yields. There are also concerns not addressed in this article regarding the all-too-cozy relationship between industry and regulators, and the failure of regulators to aggressively address serious safety concerns.  

 

Two grass roots organizations that I represent—the POP Campaign (Preserve Organic Power), and Codexfund.com—both support mandatory labeling of GE foods. 

 

Beth Clay
Senior Vice President
Capitol Strategy Consultants, Inc.
Email: 
bclay@dc-strategy.com

 

From November 1998 to May 2003, Beth Clay served as the Professional Staff Member who led the Health Oversight Activities on the House Committee on Government Reform, and was subsequently Senior Professional Staff Member on the Subcommittee on Wellness and Human Rights, with then-Chairman Dan Burton.



[1] Mesnage, R., Clair, E., Gress, S., Then, C., Székács, A. and Séralini, G.-E. (2012), Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide. Journal of Applied Toxicology. doi: 10.1002/jat.2712

Join a movement that
promotes health and wellness