News Column

Barbara Boxer Talks Tough About Genetically Engineered Foods

May 3, 2013

Josh Richman

Undaunted by last year's defeat of a California ballot measure requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is talking tough in support of her bill to mandate labels nationwide.

Boxer, D-Calif., was at Clif Bar's Emeryville headquarters Thursday to tout her "Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act," which she introduced a few weeks ago. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has introduced a companion House bill.

"We deserve to have the right to know what's in the foods we eat," Boxer said, noting that she introduced a similar bill 13 years ago when public support was far less than it is today. "If these companies believe in their products, they should have nothing to fear."

Boxer said more than 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The Food and Drug Administration now requires labeling of more than 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes, but in a 1992 policy statement allowed genetically engineered foods to be marketed without labeling, claiming that these foods were not "materially" different from other foods because the genetic differences could not be recognized by taste, smell or other senses.

But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recognized that these foods are materially different and novel for patent purposes, Boxer noted. And more than 1.5 million Americans have filed comments with the FDA urging the agency to label genetically engineered foods.

The food industry spent about $46 million last year to narrowly defeat California's Proposition 37, the similar labeling measure, Boxer said Thursday. But she noted that the Senate and House bills already have several dozen co-sponsors and about a hundred organizational supporters. With more than 20 states now considering their own labeling bills, she added, it would be better to have a single federal standard than a state-by-state patchwork.

"Let's trust each other to make the right decisions for our families," she said. "I think we're on the way to success."

Asked whether she herself believes genetically engineered foods could be harmful, she said she preferred to answer as a mother and grandmother rather than as a lawmaker.

Determining the safety of such foods requires long-term scientific study, and that's not yet been accomplished, Boxer said. "I'm very conservative when it comes to this," she added.

Actually, genetically engineered crops have been studied and deemed safe hundreds of times in recent decades. And a review of two dozen long-term studies, published last year in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, found genetically modified crops had no effects on the animals that ate them. The American Association for the Advancement of Science last year issued a statement saying that "foods containing ingredients from genetically modified (GM) crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques."

The Boxer and DeFazio bills would require clear labels for genetically engineered whole foods and processed foods, including fish and seafood; the FDA would be directed to write new labeling standards consistent with other U.S. and international standards. The legislation would not cover beef or milk from cows that consume genetically modified corn.

So far, 64 nations already require labeling of GE foods, including Russia, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and all 27 members of the European Union.

Boxer was flanked at the news conference by Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary; Jessica Lundberg of rice producer Lundberg Family Farms in Butte County; and restaurateur Charles Phan, best known for the Slanted Door in San Francisco.

"This is very exciting for us," Lundberg said. "Consumers are concerned about the purity of their food, the nutrition of their food and how their food is grown."

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(c)2013 The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.)

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Source: Copyright Oakland Tribune (CA) 2013


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