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Bills to Label Genetically Engineered Foods Introduced in Illinois and Iowa

by Rebekah Wilce

Bills were introduced in the Iowa and Illinois state senates last week that would require genetically engineered (GE) foods to be labeled. Iowa's bill would require labeling if a food contains more than nine-tenths of a percent GE ingredients, whereas Illinois' bill has a one percent threshold.

(Source: Alliance for Natural Health) California Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of GE foods in that state, failed in November 2012 by a very narrow margin, despite massive spending by the food and biotechnology industries and their lobbying groups. The European Union already requires labeling of all food, animal feeds, and processed products with GE content. And 50 countries require labeling for the GE products they import from the United States. A 2012 Mellman Group Study showed that 91 percent of U.S. voters favored having the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require labels on GE foods and ingredients.

Possible Risks of GE Products

Environmental risks of GE crops are well documented. As CMD has reported, there was a six-fold increase in the use of glyphosate pesticides (commonly called "Roundup" after Monsanto's heavily used pesticide product) on soybeans in the first ten years since the introduction of "Roundup Ready" soybeans in 1996, the first such "Roundup Ready" crop to be planted commercially. And certain weeds, like pigweed (Amaranth), have developed resistance to pesticides like glyphosate, causing farmers to spray more.

Although GE foods are approved for human consumption by the FDA, safety concerns persist, and the FDA has no effective way to track any adverse health effects. In 2011, a study done by Canadian scientists documented the presence of pesticides associated with GE crops in the human blood for the first time. Blood was taken from women and from fetal cord blood and tested for three pesticides associated with GM: glyphosate, glufosinate, and Cry1Ab. The surprising finding was that Cry1Ab was detected in 93 percent and 80 percent of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively and in 69 percent samples from nonpregnant women. This and other risks, such as allergenicity, are cited by Dr. Michael Hansen in a recent submission to the American Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health.

Iowa Senator Joe Bolkcom's Valentine for Voters: The Right to Know

The Iowa bill, Senate File 194, was introduced on February 14 by Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City). The bill, if passed, would require labeling if a food contains more than nine-tenths of a percent GE ingredients.

"Consumers want to know what is in their food. This is a simple bill that gives consumers information they want," Sen. Bolkcom said in a statement released by the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

Illinois Senator Dave Koehler Introduces Bill to Label GE Foods

The Illinois bill, SB 1666, was introduced on February 13 by Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria). The bill, if passed, would require labeling if a food contains more than one percent GE ingredients.

"SB 1666 presents a tremendous opportunity to improve research and expand our understanding of GE crops and foods," Jessica Fujan, Illinois organizer for Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. "Labeling will give us the data we need to draw solid conclusions about GE foods, and it will give consumers the ability to make fully informed decisions about what we are eating and feeding our families. Right now, the companies that stand to profit from genetic engineering are making those decisions for us."

Washington State Voters Petition to Take GE Labeling to the Polls

Activists in Washington State delivered over 300,000 signatures to the state legislature on January 4, 2013, to put a GE food and seed labeling legislative initiative, I-522, on the ballot. That was enough to get the initiative certified. As specified by state law, the initiative goes first to the state legislature, which has the power to enact, reject or modify it. At a hearing in Olympia, Washington, on February 14, lawmakers heard both sides of the debate. Voters await the legislature's decision on the initiative.

Citizens Pushing for Labeling "Over and Over Again"

After California's Prop 37 to label GE foods failed by a narrow margin in November 2012, the big food lobby patted itself on the back cautiously and with some clear signs of exhaustion and worry. Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, who had previously said that Prop 37 "scared us to death," said in an official statement, "This gives us hope that you can, with a well-funded, well-organized, well-executed campaign, defeat a ballot initiative and go directly to the voters. We hope we don’t have too many of them, because you can’t keep doing that over and over again . . . ."

Eaters who believe in the right to know when food contains GE ingredients can join Food & Water Watch in petitioning for a national GE labeling law here, working to pass laws in the states here, or find out more from the Organic Consumers Association.