BOXER CALLS FOR LABELING
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOOD
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has just introduced theGenetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act to guarantee consumers theright to know if food products contain or were produced with geneticallyengineered materials. The bill also authorizes funding for a study of theeffects of these products. To ensure a consumer's right-to-know, the "Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act" requires that all genetically engineered foods carry the following label:"This product contains a genetically engineered material, or was produced with a genetically engineered material."
In the United States in 1999, more than 25 percent of the corn and more than33 percent of soybeans were genetically engineered. Within the next fewyears, the list of foods containing genetically engineered materials on themarket could increase dramatically with such products as wheat, sugar beets,squash, and berries.
Boxer said, "Despite the prevalence of genetically engineered food, theeffects of its use remain largely unknown because of a lack of studies. Sothere are two problems: Consumers don't know what they are eating, and thereare no studies on the subject."
Boxer pointed out that U.S. products sold to a host of trading partnersincluding Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Japanalready require genetically engineered food to be labeled. "If the U.S.wants to sell its genetically engineered food to these countries, they willhave to label the food for foreign consumers," Boxer said. "It is only fairthat American consumers be given similar information."
Boxer continued, "We don't know whether genetically engineered food isharmful or whether it is safe. However, enough scientists have raisedconcerns, including increased exposure to allergens, decreased nutritionalvalue, increased toxicity and increased antibiotic resistance.
"In addition," Boxer said, "some of the potential environmental risksinclude the destruction of species, cross pollination that breeds new weedsthat are resistant to herbicides, and long-term increases in pesticide use."
Boxer says that her bill has a great deal of support among the public.
THE GENETICALLY ENGINEERED
FOOD RIGHT-TO-KNOW ACT, S. 2080
Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce the GeneticallyEngineered Food Right-to-Know Act. This legislation requires that all foodscontaining or produced with genetically engineered material bear a neutral labelstating that: `this product contains a genetically engineered material or wasproduced with a genetically engineered material.'
The bill adds this labeling requirement to the provisions of the FederalFood, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and thePoultry Products Inspection Act which contain the general standards for labelingfoods.
Recent polls have demonstrated that Americans want to know if they are eatinggenetically engineered food. A January 1999 Time magazine poll revealed that 81%of respondents wanted genetically engineered food to be labeled. A January 2000MSNBC poll showed identical results.
This pressure has already led some companies not to use geneticallyengineered materials in their foods. Gerber and Heinz have said they will nolonger use genetically engineered material in their baby food. Whole Foods andWild Oats Supermarkets also have said they will use no genetically engineeredmaterial in their own products.
Great Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg,Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Spain, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Greece, NewZealand, and Japan already require genetically engineered food to be labeled.
If the U.S. wants to sell its genetically engineered food to these countries,it will have to label the food for foreign consumers. It is only fair thatAmerican consumers be given similar information.
Why do I feel it's important for consumers to know that their food isgenetically engineered?
First, we don't know whether genetically engineered food is harmful orwhether it is safe. However, scientists have raised concerns about geneticallyengineered food. These concerns include the risks of increased exposure toallergens, decreased nutritional value, increased toxicity and increasedantibiotic resistance.
In addition, scientists have raised concerns about the ecological risksassociated with genetically engineered food. Some of those risks include thedestruction of species, cross pollination that breeds new weeds that areresistant to herbicides, and increases in pesticide use over the long-term.
Earlier this year, for example, researchers at Cornell University reportedthat Monarch butterflies were either killed or developed abnormally when eatingmilkweed dusted with the pollen of Bt-corn, a genetically engineered food.
Second, the Food and Drug Administration does not require pre-market healthand safety testing of genetically engineered foods. Therefore, it is only fairthat consumers know they are eating products that have not been tested.
Third, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculturedo not require substantive environmental review of genetically engineeredmaterials under their jurisdiction.
My Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act not only mandates labels,but does something even more important: it authorizes $5 million in grants toconduct studies into the health and environmental risks raised by geneticallyengineered food.
Specifically, it directs the Secretary of HHS to make grants to individuals,organizations and institutions to study risks like increased toxicity, increasedallergenicity, negative effects on soil ecology and on the environment ingeneral.
What is the extent of genetically engineered crops today?
Last year, 98.6 million acres in the U.S. were planted with geneticallyengineered crops. More than one-third of the U.S. soybean crop and one-quarterof corn were genetically engineered. This represents a 23-fold increase ingenetically engineered crop production from just four years ago.
And waiting to come into the marketplace are more than 60 differentgenetically engineered crops--from apples and strawberries to potatoes andtomatoes.
Providing consumers with information about the foods they eat is hardly new.
For example, I was proud to be the author of the law to provide for the`dolphin safe' label on tuna. The label indicated that the tuna was harvested bymethods that don't harm dolphins.
I was also proud to lead the fight in the Senate to make sure that chickenfrozen as solid as a blowing ball could not be labeled fresh. At the time,USDA's position was that frozen chicken could be labeled `fresh.'
In 1996, I succeeded in amending the Safe Drinking Water Act to require thatdrinking water providers give their consumers annual reports concerning thequality of their water.
Others in Congress led the fight to tell consumers whether their productscontain artificial colors or sweeteners, preservatives, additives, and whetherthey are from concentrate. I supported those labels as well.
Food manufacturers also label their products with information that is oflittle value to consumers. Certain brands of pretzels, for example, bear a labelwhich states that the manufacturer is a `Member of the Snack Food Association:An International Trade Association.'
I don't think this is information consumers are clamoring for, yet themanufacturer is willing to go through the trouble of putting it on the bag.
My legislation builds on the existing food labeling system, and would besimple to implement. It would require that all foods containing or made withgenetically engineered foods be labeled with this information: `this productcontains a genetically engineered material or was produced with a geneticallyengineered material.'
For example, corn flakes made with genetically engineered corn would be a`product that contains' genetically engineered material. To take anotherexample, milk from a cow treated with genetically engineered bovine growthhormone would be a product `produced with' genetically engineered material.
Specifically, my bill requires that food that contains or was produced withgenetically engineered material be labeled at each stage of the food productionprocess--from seed company to farmer to manufacturer to retailer. The labelingrequirement in my bill, however, does not to apply to drugs or to food sold inrestaurants, bakeries, and other similar establishments.
Genetically engineered material is defined under the bill as material that`has been altered at the molecular or cellular level by means that are notpossible under natural conditions or processes.' Food developed throughtraditional processes such as crossbreeding is not considered to be geneticallyengineered, and the legislation's labeling requirement would not apply to foodsproduced in that way.
Under the bill, persons need not label food if they obtain a written guarantyfrom the party from whom they received the food that the food does not containand was not produced with genetically engineered material. Persons who obtain avalid guaranty are not subject to penalties under the bill if they are laterfound to have failed to label food that contains genetically engineeredmaterial.
For example, a farmer who plants genetically engineered corn must label thatcorn. Each person who then buys and then sells that corn, or food derived fromit, will also be required to label it as genetically engineered.
Conversely, farmers who obtain a guaranty that the corn they are planting isnot genetically engineered may issue a guaranty to purchasers that their corn isnot genetically engineered. The purchaser then would not have to label that cornor product made with that corn.
If the corn or food is later found to have contained or been produced withgenetically engineered material but was not labeled accordingly, the purchaserwould not be subject to penalties under the bill.
This guaranty system is used today to enforce provisions of existing lawconcerning the distribution of adulterated or mislabeled foods. The system ismuch less expensive than a system which would require food to be tested at everyphase of the food production process.
Failure to label food that contains or was produced with geneticallyengineered material carries a civil penalty of up to $1,000 amount for eachviolation.
Importantly, the bill provides that if a party fraudulently warrants that aproduct is not genetically engineered, no party further down the chain ofcustody may be held liable for mislabeling. This provision is particularly meantto protect small farmers from the possibility that their suppliers would bycontract provide that any liability for mislabeling be borne by the farmerregardless of the suppliers' own actions.
The bill also provides another protection for farmers. Under the bill, afarmer who plants a non-genetically engineered crop, but whose crop came tocontain genetically engineered material from natural causes such as windcarrying pollen from a genetically engineered plant is not subject to penaltiesunder the bill. This is the case so long as the farmer did not intend or did notnegligently permit this to occur.
And, finally, the bill directs the Secretary of HHS to make grants to studythe possible health and environmental risks associated with geneticallyengineered foods. The bill authorizes $5 million for this purpose.
In closing, Mr. President, during the recent negotiations on the BiosafetyProtocol, it was the United States' negotiating position that internationalshipments of seeds, grains and plants that may contain genetically engineeredmaterial be labeled accordingly.
If the United States took the position that it is appropriate to provide thisinformation to its trading partners, shouldn't we make similar informationavailable to American consumers?
I am hopeful that my House and Senate colleagues can act quickly to ensurethe passage of my legislation to give American families the right-to-knowwhether their food contains or was produced with genetically engineeredmaterial.
Written by: The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods
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