Major changes could be coming to American food labeling rules if a new federal bill mandating that genetically modified ingredients be disclosed is signed into law.
The new bill, known as the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, was introduced on Wednesday by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and resembles previous legislation that failed to garner sufficient support in Congress.
However, the bill can already count on nine bipartisan Senate co-sponsors, along with 22 cosponsors in the House. That wide base of support may give the new legislation a better shot – not to mention the fact that over 90 per cent of Americans already support compulsory labeling of genetically modified foods.
According to an initial draft, the right-to-know bill is similar to existing regulations in sixty-four other countries, including EU members, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Brazil and India.
In the US, however, the biotechnology sector has spent a significant amount of money in hopes of defeating GMO labeling efforts. California’s Proposition 37, for example, was defeated in November 2012 after companies such as Monsanto and The Hershey Co. outspent supporters of such labeling $44 million to $7.3 million.
Nationwide, food labeling can vary by US state, the best example of which might be the use of bovine growth hormone (also known as rBGH or rBST). That genetically modified ingredient, which is banned in many countries, is widely used in American dairy production, and states such as Pennsylvania currently prohibit “rBST-free” milk labeling in favor of disclaimers such as: “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows.”
Senator DeFazio, one of the co-sponsors of the new bill, has been growing organic produce for 40 years. In comments made to The Huffington Post, he stated that consumers had the right to decide for themselves whether to purchase and consume organisms that were created only in recent decades.
“Even the most ardent free market advocate, someone who’s a devout follower of Adam Smith, would have to admit that consumers aren’t being given full information right now,” he said.”Depriving them of the knowledge of whether or not this food has GMOs does not support a free market.”
On Wednesday, representatives of the Biotechnology Industry Organization and Monsanto reiterated that they generally opposed mandatory GMO food labels.
“Unfortunately, advocates of mandatory ‘GMO labeling’ are working an agenda to vilify biotechnology and scare consumers away from safe and healthful food products,” BIO spokeswoman Karen Badt wrote to The Huffington Post.
President Obama had in 2007 pledged to require GMO food labeling while campaigning, though critics point to the fact that, rather than advancing the issue, his administration has reversed course entirely by signing into law a provision derided by consumer groups as the “Monsanto Protection Act” earlier this April.