May 16, 2013 - By The San Jose (Calif.) Mercury NewsAmericans have made it abundantly clear they want the ability to make informed decisions about what they eat. The United States should join every European Union nation as well as Japan, Australia, Russia and China in requiring food producers to label the genetically engineered foods sold in stores and supermarkets.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced a labeling bill in April that deserves widespread, bipartisan support. Congress should pass the legislation and President Barack Obama should sign it into law.
Boxer watched Californians wisely defeat the poorly drafted Proposition 37 in November. It wasn't that voters opposed the concept. They instead recognized that the authors' attempt to define "natural" foods was a mess, and that the exemptions permitted were inconsistently applied.
Boxer understands that with nearly 20 other states considering their own labeling laws, it would be far better for food producers and consumers if there were a single federal law governing genetically engineered foods. Boxer's legislation, unlike the ill-fated Proposition 37, leaves the specific rules up to the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture. That will allow flexibility as the science and marketing of genetically engineered foods progresses. Changing California's Proposition 37, by contrast, would have required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or another vote of the people.
Farmers, food packagers and store owners argue correctly that the National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association, FDA and World Health Organization have all said they can find no proven health risk from foods or animals whose DNA has been modified.
But the field of study remains young enough that it's impossible to tell whether there are long-term effects to the processes scientists are using to genetically alter foods, including products that produce their own insecticides or are more resistant to herbicides. Consumers who want to avoid using products that are genetically engineered should have the right to know what they and their children are eating.
American growers and food producers fear shoppers will avoid buying these foods if labels start showing up on grocery shelves. It's a legitimate concern.
Genetically engineered food now accounts for only about 5 percent of the products sold in supermarkets in nations that require labeling. The FDA, in contrast, estimates that about 40 percent of U.S. produce comes from genetically engineered seeds, including nearly 90 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States.
Polls show that 90 percent of Americans _ Republicans and Democrats, young and old _ support requiring labels on genetically engineered products. Congress should recognize this rare near-unanimity and pass Boxer and DeFazio's bill.
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