The Vermont Legislature earlier this year considered a bill that would have required labels on foods that contain genetically-engineered ingredients. The House Agriculture Committee heard testimony from 111 citizens and hundreds more crowded the Statehouse to show their support. Despite passing by a lopsided 9-1 vote in committee, the bill languished after Monsanto threatened to sue the state. Similar strong-arm tactics by one of the world's leading producers of genetically-engineered foods and herbicides have been employed elsewhere. Now, Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would let states require that any food or beverage containing genetically-engineered ingredients be clearly labeled.
Cosponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, the amendment acknowledges that states have the authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering or derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered.
The measure also would require the Food and Drug Administration and the 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.
"All over this country, people are becoming more conscious about the foods they are eating and the foods they are serving to their kids, and this is certainly true for genetically-engineered foods," Sanders said. "I believe that when a mother goes to the store and purchases food for her child, she has the right to know what she is feeding her child."
In the United States, Sanders said, food labels already must list more than 3,000 ingredients ranging from gluten, aspartame, high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fats or MSG, but not genetically-altered ingredients. Around the world, by contrast, 49 countries require labels on foods that contain genetically-engineered ingredients.
In the 1990s, there was consensus among scientists and doctors at the FDA that genetically-altered 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 are mounting. In just three days, the American Medical Association will consider resolutions calling for new studies on the impact of genetically-altered foods. The American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association already passed similar resolutions.
Sanders stressed that labeling genetically-altered foods will not increase costs to shoppers. He also disputed claims that genetically-engineered crops are better for the environment. Instead, he said, the use of Monsanto Roundup-ready soybeans engineered to withstand exposure to the herbicide Roundup has caused the spread of Roundup-resistant weeds, which now infest 10 million acres in 22 states with predictions of 40 million acres or more by mid-decade. Resistant weeds increase the use of herbicides and the use of older and more toxic herbicides.
The Sanders Amendment is about allowing states to honor the wishes of their residents and allowing consumers' to know what they're eating. "Monsanto and other major corporations should not get to decide this, the people and their elected representatives should," Sanders said.