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Joined at a press conference by celebrity chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) reintroduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would direct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require that food manufacturers label foods containing genetically modified ingredients (also known as GE foods and GMOs).
"We cannot continue to keep Americans in the dark about the food they eat," said DeFazio. "More than 60 other countries make it easy for consumers to choose. Why should the U.S. be any different? If food manufacturers stand by their product and the technology they use to make it, they should have no problem disclosing that information to consumers."
According to Colicchio, owner of Craft Restaurants and co-founder of Food Policy Action, the legislation addresses the concerns of "the 93 percent of Americans who want to know whether their food has been genetically modified."
Representatives from Food Policy Action, Environmental Working Group (EWG), Just Label It and Center for Food Safety were also on hand at the press conference to urge Congress to act on the legislation. Pro-labeling groups helped to gather more than 1.4 million signatures on a petition demanding that the FDA ensure consumers are aware of GMOs in the foods they eat.
"We've run the first 20 years of the GMO experiment and now know that in fact GMOs require more herbicides over time," noted EWG Senior Policy Analyst Mary Ellen Kustin. "With even more toxic compounds like 2,4-D and dicamba being approved for use on GMO crops, consumers should be able to make informed decisions about what food they're buying."
Added Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety: "In the 13 years that FDA has allowed companies to voluntarily label foods produced using genetic engineering, not one single company has done so. Consumers want to know more than ever how their food is produced, and a mandatory GE food-labeling bill will give consumers the information they're looking for while balancing the need by companies for a national labeling standard."
Among those cheering the bill's reintroduction is National Co-op Grocers. "While we support individual states’ right-to-know efforts, this national legislation presents a simple solution for manufacturers, retailers and consumers, with consistent requirements across the nation," observed Robyn Shrader, CEO of the Iowa City-based organization.
Labeling opponents, meanwhile, drew attention to what they deemed inconsistencies in pro-labeling advocates' arguments.
"This legislation is the wrong solution at the wrong time, and will lead to high food prices and misleading labels," noted Claire Parker, spokeswoman for the food industry-backed Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. "Even the voters of Sen. Boxer's home state of California rejected this approach when they voted down a mandatory labeling initiative in 2013, and Congress should again do the same thing with this proposal. It is also notable that the celebrity chefs and restaurant owners who are advocating for Sen. Boxer’s legislation fail to mention that restaurant products are exempt from the labeling requirements in her proposed legislation and in the state labeling laws being pushed."
Continued Parker: "Americans deserve a national, consistent labeling standard, and the right approach is one being developed by a bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic members of Congress that would reaffirm the important and well-established roles of federal agencies such as the FDA and USDA in food-labeling decisions. Nearly 90 percent of scientists and the executive director of the "Just Label It” campaign all agree that GMO products are completely safe."
The reintroduction of the GMO labeling bill comes ahead of Rep. Mike Pompeo's (R-Kan.) expected reintroduction of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which would codify the current system of manufacturers’ voluntary GMO labeling and pre-empt GMO labeling laws already in effect in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut, in addition to pending legislation in more than 20 other states. The bill is often derisively referred to by many labeling proponents as the "Deny Americans the Right to Know," or DARK, Act.