On December 2, 2011, Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) introduced The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, H.R. 3553, a legislation that would require the labeling of all foods that contain or are produced with genetically engineered (GE) material. Citing health and environmental concerns, ecosystem disruption, crop contamination, and the failure to “inform consumers about the basic truths of their products,” Rep. Kucinich said in his press statement “[e]nough is enough.” Voicing what many have been saying for a long time, Rep. Kucinich said that genetically engineered crops are a “false solution to world hunger.”
Kucinich also stated that “we cannot rely on the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture to protect us from the threat of GE organisms when those same agencies allowed genetically engineered organisms into our food and pharmaceutical supplies without first requiring objective studies to show they were safe,” and accused big agribusiness of keeping consumers in the dark.
The language of the proposed legislation mirrors Rep. Kucinich’s concerns. For example, the Findings section of the bill found that, among other things the process of genetically engineering foods results in the material change of such foods. The Federal agencies, the bill found, have allowed genetically engineered foods to be marketed and sold without labeling. It also found that consumers want to know about GMOs in their food for a variety of reasons, including the potential transfer of allergens into food and other health risks, concerns about potential environmental risks associated with the genetic engineering of crops, and religiously and ethically based dietary restrictions.
The bill would define what the genetically engineered means and would require that a label stating the following be placed on applicable products:
THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS A GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MATERIAL, OR WAS PRODUCED WITH A GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MATERIAL
An exception would be made for “food [that] contains an adventitious genetically engineered material and the amount of the material in the food is one percent or less.” The bill also provides for civil penalties for any person engaging in the violation as well as citizen suits against any person alleged to be violating the law.
Given the powerful biotechnology and meat and dairy industry lobbyists in Congress, it is not likely that this bill would pass. However, H.R. 3553 provides a good counter-balance to H.R. 2031, the industry friendly bill, EATS (Expediting Agriculture Through Science Act), that was introduced earlier this year. Bill Freese, the Science Analyst with the Center for Food Safety commented in an email to GMO Journal:
The Expediting Agriculture Through Science Act (H.R. 2031), otherwise known as “EATS,” would be more accurately named the “Expediting Ag-biotech Through Stealth” Act. This bill was introduced by Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) and Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) to circumvent USDA’s statutory duty to fully review petitions to “deregulate” (approve for commercial use) new genetically engineered (GE) crops. By legislating automatic approval when USDA, for whatever reason, has not had time to thoroughly assess a biotech crop petition, the EATS Act would either rush an already inadequate review process, or strip USDA of its statutory role as gatekeeper for biotech crops. In the latter case of automatic approval, a biotech crop would enter the marketplace without any assessment, much less one based on “sound science,” the USDA’s current standard of review. This would represent a clear breach of the Obama Administration’s policy on scientific integrity in executive branch agency decision-making.
The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act was co-sponsored by twelve representatives, including Louise Slaughter, and has been referred to the House Agriculture and House Energy and Commerce Committees.