Legislation is in the works in Congress that would mandate the labeling of genetically modified foods, a step that could supersede the many pushes for similar labeling that are gaining steam at the state level. Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Jared Polis (D-CO), along with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are cosponsoring the bill, which was not yet introduced at press time or even released in draft form.
Statewide efforts to pass laws requiring labeling of genetically modified foods have so far failed—California’s bill went down to defeat in November—but more states are trying. On Feb. 22, a coalition of consumer and environmental groups (and even one labor union) held a press conference urging New Jersey’s legislature to become the first in the nation to mandate such labeling.
Introduced in early February, New Jersey’s bill (A. 3192/S. 1367) has bipartisan sponsorship, notes Jim Walsh, Eastern Region Director at Food and Water Watch, which organized the press conference. “Both in the Senate and the Assembly, we have Republicans and Democrats joining together as the primary sponsors. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue: It’s about giving consumers choices and bringing labeling standards up to date. There was a point in time when our foods didn’t have calorie counts, or even expiration dates, and consumers had to fight to get that information. It’s time labeling caught up with genetically modified foods, which have been around since 1996.”
Meanwhile, opponents of genetically modified foods claim these labeling requirements would hike food costs to protect consumers from an exaggerated threat—indicating there are no safety or health benefits to labeling bio-engineered food.
Connecticut, Iowa, Washington state, New Mexico, Maryland, and Missouri are among other states that have introduced GMO labeling bills; but in Colorado, home state of one of the cosponsors of the pending federal legislation, a House committee voted 7-2 against proposed labeling.