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Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, an Independent, is Vermont's junior senator

June 19th, 2012 4:37 PM

Label Genetically Engineered Food

In 49 countries around the world, including all of Europe, people have the opportunity of knowing whether or not they are eating food which contains genetically engineered ingredients. In the United States, we don’t.  That is why I have introduced, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer, an amendment to the agriculture bill which will give states the right to require labels on good products which are genetically engineered.

All over this country people are becoming more conscious about the foods they eat and serve their kids.  When a mother goes to the store and purchases food for her child, she has the right to know what she is feeding her family. 

Poll after poll during the past decade showed that nine out of 10 Americans agree that food with genetically engineered ingredients should say so on the label.

Almost 1 million Californians signed a petition to get labeling of genetically engineered food on this November’s ballot.  They want the right to know what is in their foods.  

Vermont state legislators this year tried to pass a bill that would have required foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients to disclose that information on the label. There was a huge public response.  The Vermont House Agriculture Committee heard from 111 witnesses in favor of the bill. Hundreds more showed up at the Statehouse to show their support. 

Of course, there are those who disagree. Monsanto, one of the world’s leading producers of genetically engineered foods, doesn’t like the idea.  It is also the world’s largest producer of the herbicide Roundup as well as so-called "Roundup-ready" seeds that have been genetically engineered to resist the pesticide.  So, once it seemed like the bill was headed for passage, Monsanto threatened to sue.  The strong-arm tactic worked. Despite passing out of the House Agriculture Committee by a vote of 9 to 1, the bill went nowhere.

 This week in The United States Senate we have an opportunity to affirm the right of California and Vermont and all states to label food that contains genetically engineered ingredients.  Simply put, this amendment gives people the right to know.  It says that a state, if its Legislature so chooses, may require that any food or beverage containing a genetically engineered ingredient offered for sale in that state have a label that says so.

The amendment also requires that the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and secretary of U.S. Department of Agriculture to report to Congress within two years on the percentage of food and beverages in the United States that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

There are strong precedents for labeling. The FDA already requires the labeling of over 3,000 ingredients, additives, and processes. If you want to know if your food contains gluten, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, trans-fats or MSG, you simply read the ingredients listed on the label.  The FDA also requires labeling for major food allergens such as peanuts, wheat, shellfish and others. 

Unlike people in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, China, Russia, New Zealand and other countries where labels are required, Americans don’t know if the food they eat has been genetically altered.  

There was concern among scientists at the FDA in the 1990s that genetically engineered foods could have new and different risks such as hidden allergens, increased plant-toxin levels and the potential to hasten the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease. Those concerns were largely brushed aside. Today, unanswered questions remain. In the United States, resolutions calling for labeling of genetically engineered foods were passed by the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association.  In Canada, a landmark independent study by Canadian doctors published in the peer-reviewed journal Reproductive Toxicology found that toxin from soil bacterium engineered into corn to kill pests was present in the bloodstream of 93 percent of pregnant women. There is a great need for additional research because there have never been mandatory human clinical trials of genetically engineered crops, no tests for carcinogenicity or harm to fetuses, no long-term testing for human health risks, no requirement for long-term testing on animals, and only limited allergy testing. What this means is that, for all intents and purposes, the long-term health study of genetically engineered food is being done on all of the American people.

The Consumers Right to Know about Genetically Engineered Food Amendment is about allowing states to honor the wishes of their residents and allowing consumers to know what they're eating.  Americans want this information.  It is time that Congress affirms the right of states to give it to them. 

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