Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Lawmakers Blast Industry-Sponsored GMO Bill

July 14, 2016
Press Release
Disingenuous labeling bill continues to make it difficult for consumers to know what’s in their food, preempts state labeling laws

Washington, DC—Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Annie Kuster (NH-02), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Jared Polis (CO-02), Peter Welch (VT-AL) and Don Young (AK-AL) today criticized legislation that creates a new, weaker mandatory federal labeling standard for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. 
 
The legislation (S.764) would allow food manufacturers to include a QR code on all food packaging, which consumers would then have to scan to find out if their foods contain genetically engineered ingredients. This standard would preempt existing state labeling laws and replace them with this much weaker standard. Currently four states have enacted legislation that would require genetically engineered ingredients to be clearly labeled on food packaging with plain and simple wording that is easily and immediately identifiable to shoppers. The legislation passed the House today by a vote of 306-117, and passed the Senate last week by a vote of 63-30. 
 

Video of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaking on the House floor during debate of S.764 is available here
 
“People shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to know what’s in their food,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “If S.764 was truly intended to expand consumers’ right to know, it would require a clear, straightforward, and easy-to-read food labeling standard. Instead, it creates a system of electronic codes, symbols, and text that are confusing to consumers, making them work harder to access information that should be readily available. This bill also leaves many common foods out of labeling requirements, and lacks any enforcement measures to hold companies accountable. We should have one uniform national labeling standard that is simple, clear and makes it easier for consumers to know what's in their food. S.764 does the opposite—it's a bad bill that does not serve the best interests of the American people.”
 
“This is not transparency—this is an industry-backed sham pushed by big food companies to keep American consumers in the dark about what’s in their food,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio. “Monsanto and other proponents of genetically modified foods spent nearly $100 million dollars to defeat labeling standards on state ballot initiatives. Now, despite the fact that nine out of ten Americans support on-package, clear GMO labeling, they’ve spent millions in donations to my colleagues in Congress to ensure they could preempt state initiatives and hide genetically modified ingredients from families in all fifty states.”
 
“This GMO bill is a nothing more than a sham and makes it more difficult for consumers to know how their food is grown. It is clear that the industry shoved this bill through Congress, greatly reducing transparency and making it easier for big Ag to bury information in websites and QR codes,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, “At a time when nine out of ten Americans want the right to know whether their food was produced using GMOs, this bill keeps consumers in the dark and puts corporate interests first. American consumers deserve better.”
 
“Consumers should have the right to know what’s in the food that they are buying and serving their family. Congress shouldn’t actively work to limit that information,” said Rep. Jared Huffman. “I am very concerned that this bill preempts state laws without first putting in place a labeling framework. I am disappointed by the multi-year gap in disclosure, and the confusing and insufficient labeling requirements, and I will continue working with my colleagues on the both sides of the aisle and with the Department of Agriculture to find practical solutions to ensure every American can make fully informed decisions when it comes to their food.” 
 
“While I appreciate the efforts of my House and Senate colleagues to craft a nationwide labeling policy for GMO products, this bill falls short of the simple and clear labeling standards that Americans deserve.  American consumers overwhelmingly support the labeling of foods which have been genetically engineered, and this bill fails to provide a clear and easy-to-read labeling policy that is transparent and accessible to all. This bill would allow companies to disclose GMO information through a digital QR code, which requires a smart phone or other scanning device to interpret.  This policy will still leave many consumers in the dark and make it difficult for them to access basic information about their food, which is why I oppose it,” said Rep. Annie Kuster.   
 
“Americans need a clear and easy-to-understand label to tell them if the food they’re buying contains GMOs. This bill is a prime example of why the American people are so frustrated with Congress. Republicans claim that this bill promotes transparency, but it’s just another giveaway to big industry,” Rep. Jim McGovern said. “Instead of a clear GMO label, this bill lets food companies keep consumers in the dark by using a QR code, a complicated computer symbol that requires a smartphone – something many Americans simply don’t have. Poll after poll shows the overwhelming majority of Americans – Republicans and Democrats – want clear GMO labels on their food. Families deserve to know what’s in the food they feed their children and this bill falls far short of that goal.”
 
“This really shouldn’t be a complicated issue—consumers want GMO ingredients identified on the label in plain English and not in a special code that needs a smartphone to decipher,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree. “The only reason I can think of to use this complicated system is that some companies must want to hide the true ingredients of their products from their customers.”
 
“Americans deserve to know what is in the food they eat,” Rep. Jared Polis said. “This bill unfairly blocks state GMO labeling laws in favor of a weak national standard. Consumers expect clear labels on a package not bar codes or web links, and I will continue to side with them in the fight for transparency.”
 
“This ‘compromise’ is a win for Monsanto and big food producers at the expense of consumers,” said Rep. Peter Welch. “It guts Vermont’s labelling law and makes a mockery out of the consumer’s right to know.  Absurdly, rather than requiring a plain English label on GMO products, it will require shoppers to call a toll free number or look up a website via a fancy barcode on their smartphones to figure out what’s in the food they’re buying.  Let’s get real. This is not a compromise. It’s a thinly disguised effort to block the right of consumers to know what’s in the food they eat.”
 
“This legislation is troubling in many ways; not only does it significantly undermine a state’s right to develop labeling laws within their own jurisdictions, it also blocks efforts across the country to give consumers the right to know exactly what is being served on their dinner plates,” said Rep. Don Young. “States like Alaska, which passed mandatory labeling requirements for Genetically Engineered fish and seafood in 2005, would be barred from enforcing their own laws. Given the FDA’s misguided and flawed approval of “Frankenfish” – the first ever genetically engineered animal for human consumption, I believe this is the last thing Congress should be pursuing. We must uphold a state’s ability to enforce its own laws, while giving consumers a clear choice when feeding their families. This bill only damages those efforts.”
 
Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has been recognized as a top advocate for improving our nation’s food system and has long supported transparent and sensible food policy. She strongly opposed legislation known as the DARK Act when it came before the House last year, which would pre-empt state and local laws that already require labeling of genetically modified foods and create a food labeling system based solely on industry science and corporate influences. The congresswoman is an original co-sponsor of H.R. 913, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require the FDA to clearly label all foods containing genetically-engineered ingredients.  

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