GMO Labeling Fights Multiply Across U.S.

justlabelit.org collected 600K public comments so far calling on FDA to label genetically engineered foods.

justlabelit.org collected 600K public comments so far calling on FDA to label genetically engineered foods. Click on the image to visit the site.

The momentum behind the movement to label genetically modified organisms has been building and the voices of discontent are growing louder. The growing consumer demand to know what is in their food has pushed the issue of labeling foods containing genetically modified ingredients into the political maelstrom.

After all, it is estimated that about 80% of processed foods at U.S. stores likely contain genetically modified ingredients and consumers are unaware of which products to avoid because labeling is not mandatory.

Echoing and simultaneously amplifying consumer sentiment, Dr. Vandana Shiva noted during her keynote speech at the Right2Know March, that “[t]he denial of food labeling is linked directly to a food dictatorship by Monsanto Corporation.” This past fall, the Right2Know March organized consumers, activists, and businesses to walk 313 miles from Brooklyn, New York to Washington D.C. to demand labeling of GMOs.

Dr. Shiva is also known to point out that food production systems have been hijacked by corporate giants.

From the seed to the table, corporations are seeking total control over biodiversity, land,water. They are seeking control over how food is grown, processed and distributed. And in seeking this total control, they are destroying the earth’s ecological processes, our  farmers, our health and our freedoms

The response in the United States has been a multifaceted approach seeking to address food production issues at the seed level, through various lawsuits, such as the one brought by organic and conventional farmers against Monsanto, seeking protection against suits from the company for patent infringement should their crops become contaminated by the company’s genetically modified seeds, and invalidation of certain of the company’s patents, as well as labeling legislation at the consumer level.

Four states, California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, sought to label genetically engineered salmon, AquAdvantage, made by Aquabounty. The genetically engineered fish “contains a growth hormone from Chinook salmon and an ‘antifreeze gene’ from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish that grows year round. The newfangled salmon can grow twice as fast as its natural counterpart.” The new bill introduced in Alaska would strengthen existing legislature on books since 2005.

While the statewide efforts to ban GMO planting failed in California, the people’s determination and spirit has not. Several counties in California, such as Mendocino and Marin, already ban the planting of GMOs and there is a 2012 ballot initiative that, if passed, would require genetically engineered foods and “foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly labeled, similar to current labels with other nutritional information.”

In total, seventeen states are looking at labeling GM foods, from corn to fish, though similar attempts were unsuccessful in the past. In Hawaii, for example, four bills have been introduced in the State legislature dealing with GMO labeling requirements. Connecticut legislators have also been considering labeling laws in their state. Vermont is also looking to pass the Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, which would require labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. A similar bill was also recently introduced in Washington state.

On the national stage, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH) has been advocating for legislation on GMOs since 1999, when he introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act. Rep. Kucinich reintroduced this bill in December 2011. Similarly, since 1999, Rep. Kucinich has been introducing the Genetically Engineered Technology Farmer Protection Act, that is aimed at protecting farmers and ranchers that may be harmed economically by genetically engineered seeds, plants, or animals. Rep. Kucinich has also introduced the Genetically Engineered Safety Act in 2008, and again in the recent session of Congress, which would prohibit, among other things, the open-air cultivation of genetically engineered pharmaceutical and industrial crops and the use of common human food or animal feed as the host plant for a genetically engineered pharmaceutical or industrial chemical.

Similarly, Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) and Representative Peter DeFazio (OR), have recently authored a bicameral Congressional letter in support of the Center for Food Safety’s (CFS) legal petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demanding that the agency require the labeling of GE foods. In asking for support from their fellow members of Congress, Baxter and DeFazio argued that:

Opponents of providing consumers this basic right to information will argue that it will only confuse consumers, be costly, or imply that the products are unsafe. Yet, the FDA requires the labeling of over 3,000 ingredients, additives, and processes; providing basic information doesn’t confuse the public, it empowers them to make choices. Absent labeling, consumers will continue to be deceived by current labeling practices. For example nearly 80% of processed foods on supermarket shelves contain GE ingredients, many marketed with labels such as “all natural” and “natural”.

CFS’ legal petition, filed with the FDA in September, is part of the JustLabelIt campaign. The campaign, not only calls for the mandatory labeling of all genetically modified foods but is also urging consumers to “submit comments to the FDA and let Washington know that Americans want labeling of genetically engineered foods,” as the FDA is accepting public comments on the petition. The goal of the campaign is to obtain 1 million signatures in support of the petition.

Recent nationwide polls show that 93% of Americans support GMO labeling.  As ABC News stated, “such near-unanimity in public opinion is rare.”

Correction: an earlier version of the article mentioned that fourteen states introduced GMO labeling legislation.