Federal legislation was proposed that would require food manufacturers to clearly label any product containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) – or risk having that product classified “misbranded” by the Food and Drug Administration.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act” to the Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday. The bill has nine cosponsors in the Senate and 22 cosponsors in the House.
“Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families,” Boxer said. “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.”
Debate has raged in recent years over the long-term health and environmental consequences of GMO crops, but experts have generally regarded GMO foods safe. The amount of GMO foods has grown substantially over the past two decades, and many Americans consume food products containing GMOs without knowledge of the ingredients.
“All over this country people are becoming more conscious about the foods they are eating and the foods they are serving to their kids,” says Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), one of the bills cosponsors. “This is certainly true for genetically engineered foods. I believe that when a mother goes to the store and buys food for her child she has the right to know what she is feeding her child.”
Proponents of the legislation note that 64 other countries already require GMO labels on food products.
However, there is strong opposition to GMO labeling in the U.S. Executives from Monsanto Co., DuPont, and Dow Chemical, among the world's largest developers of biotech crops and the chemicals used to help produce them, told Reuters this week they are putting together a campaign aimed at turning the tide on what they acknowledge is a growing public sentiment against GMOs used as ingredients in the nation's food supply.
Last year, the industry spent $40 million to defeat a labeling measure in California. But similar initiatives are underway now in more than 20 states, and the move by the big biotech firms is designed to thwart the spread of such initiatives, which the companies say would confuse consumers and roil the food manufacturing industry.
"Even when we prevail, we lose," said Cathy Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture for the global Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which includes Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow Chemical as members.
"To try to oppose this state by state, that is unsustainable," she said