Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Under Threat

Consumers Union opposes plan to thwart mandatory labeling laws

Last updated: July 21, 2015 06:00 PM

Editor's note: The House of Representatives is fast-tracking the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599) that is described below, and will vote on it this week. This legislation, backed by Monsanto and giant food manufacturers, would block states from labeling GMO food or taking other actions to restrict GMOs. It would even wipe out labeling laws already approved by states—taking away their right to make decisions. Whether you support genetic engineering of food, don’t like it, or just aren’t sure, it’s important to note that labeling simply gives you a choice in whether you want to eat them or not. If you value your right to know whether your food contains GMOs, call 1-855-977-1770 and tell your Congressional representative to vote "No" on H.R. 1599.

Many polls, including one by Consumer Reports National Research Center, have found that some 90 percent of consumers want foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled. Despite this clear message, Congress is now considering a bill that would undermine GMO labeling and erode Americans’ ability to know the basic facts about what’s in their food.

On June 18, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee will hold a hearing on a new draft of the misleadingly named Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599). "Rather than give consumers the information they're asking for, this new version of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would do quite the opposite," says Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union.

The bill would prohibit requirements for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food at any level—federal, state, or local. This would quash existing state GMO labeling laws in states like Vermont, and prevent states from developing new ones. It also would bar states and local communities from regulating GMO crops in other ways. Several counties in California and Oregon, and the states of Washington and Hawaii, currently have measures in place that restrict where GMO crops can be grown.

Read our report "GMO foods: What you need to know" to learn the facts and fictions about GMOs. Also visit our Food Safety & Sustainability Guide for more details about our food safety work.

Instead, the legislation would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to continue its current policy, in which any labeling of GE food must be the voluntary choice of the food producer, even though current guidelines have not produced a GMO-labeled product in 15 years.

Even more concerning, voluntary non-GMO labeling programs that have set strict standards could potentially be forced to weaken those standards. “For instance, the Non-GMO Project Verified label, which now appears on thousands of products, sets a threshold of GMO contamination of 0.9 percent,” says Halloran. “If this bill becomes law, they’d be forced to follow any standard set by the government, which would likely be less stringent.”

Consumers Union believes that the issue of GMO labeling has new urgency given that a World Health Organization research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), recently categorized the herbicide glyphosate, used on virtually all GE crops, as a “probable carcinogen.” In a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, Consumers Union voiced support for other legislative efforts, like the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act introduced by Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon. That bill would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled.

—Consumer Reports

Take action

Make your voice heard and share your support for GMO labeling efforts. Contact your Congressional representatives and urge them to support the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. Visit to send Congress the message that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.

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