By Jenny Hopkinson,
Lawmakers, representatives from the organic food industry and consumer groups are urging the White House to require the labeling of genetically modified foods, arguing that the president should follow through with a 2007 campaign promise he made to take action on the issue.
In a letter sent this morning to President Barack Obama, more than 200 consumer advocacy groups and food companies say the Food and Drug Administration already has the authority under current law to set such labeling standards.
“In 2007, you pledged to give consumers the right to know if their food is genetically engineered,” the groups write. “National polls show that 93 percent of Americans share your view.”
The GMO labeling advocates are referring to a statement made by Obama while he was campaigning, as demonstrated in a video placed on YouTube by the advocacy group Food Democracy Now.
“Here’s what I’ll do as president…We’ll let folks know if their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they’re buying,” Obama said.
The letter was released Thursday morning at a press event on Capitol Hill with Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Ann McLane Kuster (N.H.) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), along with representatives from Stoneyfield Farm Inc., the Environmental Working Group and Center for Food Safety.
“I hope that the president will see the dedication of all of these organizations and the people they represent,” and move forward with labeling, Kuster told a group of 30 reporters, food group representatives and congressional staffers. “This has already happened all across the globe we are falling behind in protecting the well-being of our families.”
The four lawmakers are among the 50 sponsors of HR 1699, a bill introduced in April 2013 that would require FDA to label foods that contain genetically modified organisms. The bill remains pending in front of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee. However, of the many lawmakers signed on to the bill, just one — Rep. Don Young of Arkansas — is a Republican. The House bill does have a Senate companion, S 809, that was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer on the same day.
The fix is relatively straight forward, the GMO labeling advocates’ letter asserts.
“FDA has a duty to act when the absence of labeling would leave consumers confused about the foods they buy,” the letter says. “It’s been more than a decade since FDA approved voluntary GE labeling, and consumers are more confused than ever. Allowing responsible companies to voluntarily disclose the presence of GE ingredients is simply not enough.”
The labeling of GMO foods is a growing issue among consumers and the food industry. While FDA has declared that food ingredients developed by biotechnology have no material difference to their conventional counterparts, consumers are more and more demanding to know whether GMOs are present in products.
A petition to require GMO labeling has been pending in front of FDA since 2011, and last year 26 states weighed legislation on the issue. Connecticut and Maine passed labeling measures, though they have yet to take effect due to difficult trigger clauses. State legislatures, including Vermont, Rhode Island and Florida, have taken up bills on the issue this month — the first of what are expected to be many states to look at measures in 2014.
However, the food industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the biotech industry oppose mandatory labeling requirements, arguing that they would just serve to confuse consumers and imply that GMO products are less safe than their conventional counterparts.
GMA is currently seeking a sponsor for its own federal solution. The proposed bill, according to a discussion draft first reported by POLITICO, would preempt state efforts, codify pre-market approval of GMO products and establish a voluntary labeling standard to be run by FDA.
Given the recent action in different states, and the more than $70 million spent by the food and biotech industry to fight ballot initiatives in California and Washington state over the past two years, the Obama administration should recognize that the time has come, Colin O’Neil, director of governmental affairs for the Center of Food Safety, said at the event.
“This is obviously [a food industry] and pest company agenda to keep consumers in the dark — that’s what they want to do,” O’Neil said. “Before these initiatives and before this spending the Obama Administration didn’t have the pressure to act. But now I think there is the pressure.”
“Everything that we work on tends to have sort of a tipping point,” Pingree said. As states look at the issue, and consumers reach out to lawmakers in search of a labeling solution, “each one of those things add on and get get to a moment,” and eventually it will “get to a point where you say yeah we should do something about that.”
Originally published: Politico.