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Kucinich Introduces Bills to Label Genetically Engineered Food and Protect Consumers

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act of 2003 in the House of Representatives on Friday. The bill number assigned to it is H.R. 2916.

In addition to the labeling legislation, Kucinich also introduced five other bills that deal with the regulation of genetically engineered crops.

Posted below are a press release from Kucinich that announces the bills and a summary of the bills that includes the initial co-sponsors.

Six Bills Introduced in the House of Representatives to Provide a Comprehensive Regulatory Framework

Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, introduced six bills today that will provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for all genetically engineered plants, animals, bacteria, and other organisms.

The six bills include the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act of 2003, which requires food companies to label all foods that contain or are produced with genetically engineered materials and instructs the Food and Drug Administration to conduct periodic tests to ensure compliance. Also introduced today were the Genetically Engineered Food Safety Act of 2003, the Genetically Engineered Crop and Animal Framer Protection Act of 2003, the Genetically Engineered Organism Liability Act of 2003, the Real Solutions to World Hunger Act of 2003 and the Genetically Engineered Pharmaceutical and Industrial Crop Safety Act of 2003.

"This is a basic consumer safety issue," stated Kucinich. " People have a right to know what is in the food they are eating, and that the food is safe. That is the goal of these bills. It is well past time that Congress change current food safety and environmental laws because the laws were not written with this technology in mind."

Combined Kucinich's bills would ensure that consumers are protected, increase food safety, protect farmers rights, make biotech companies liable for their products, and help developing nations resolve hunger concerns.

biobeans labeling cartoon

Kucinich Introduces Bills to Label Genetically Engineered Food (continued)

Summary of Genetically Engineered Food Legislation

H.R. 2916 - The Genetically Engineered Food Right To Know Act Of 2003

Consumers wish to know whether the food they purchase and consume is a GE food. Concerns include the potential transfer of allergens into food and other health risks, potential environmental risks associated with the genetic engineering of crops, and religiously and ethically based dietary restrictions. Adoption and implementation of mandatory labeling requirements for GE food produced in the United States would facilitate international trade. This bill acknowledges consumers have a right to know what GE foods they are eating:

  • Requires food companies to label all foods that contain GE material and requires the FDA to ensure compliance with testing. Voluntary, non-GE food labels are also permitted.

  • A legal framework is established to ensure the accuracy of labeling without creating significant economic hardship on the food production system.

Cosponsors: Sanders (VT); DeFazio (OR); Lee (CA); Conyers (MI); Olver (MA); Miller (CA); Honda (CA); Acevedo-Vila (PR); Brown (OH); Gutierrez (IL); Nadler (NY); Owens (NY); Velazquez (NY); Waters (CA); Watson (CA); Woolsey (CA); Kleczka (WI)

H.R. 2917 - The Genetically Engineered Food Safety Act Of 2003

Given the consensus among the scientific community that genetic engineering can potentially introduce hazards, such as allergens or toxins, GE foods need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The possibility of such hazards dictates a cautious approach to GE food approvals. However, FDA has glossed over the food safety concerns of GE foods. This bill requires that all GE foods follow a strenuous food safety review process:

  • Requires FDA to screen all GE foods through the current food additive process to ensure they are safe for human consumption including a public comment period of at least 30 days.

  • Requires that unique concerns be explicitly examined in the review process, a phase out of antibiotic resistance markers, and a prohibition on known allergens.

Cosponsors: DeFazio (OR); Sanders (VT); Lee (CA); Conyers (MI); Olver (MA); Miller (CA); Honda (CA); Acevedo-Vila (PR); Gutierrez (IL); Nadler (NY); Owens (NY); Velazquez (NY); Waters (CA); Watson (CA); Woolsey (CA)

H.R. 2918. - The Genetically Engineered Crop and Animal Farmer Protection Act of 2003

Agribusiness and biotech companies have consolidated market power at the same time as the average farmer's profits and viability have significantly declined. Policies promoted by biotech corporations have systematically acted to remove basic farmer rights. These policies include unreasonable seed contracts, the intrusion into everyday farm operations, and liability burdens. This bill provides several farmer rights and protections to maintain the opportunity to farm:

  • Farmers may save seeds and seek compensation for failed GE crops.

  • Biotech companies may not: shift liability to farmers; nor require access to farmer's property; nor mandate arbitration; nor mandate court of jurisdiction; nor require damages beyond actual fees; or charge more to American farmers than they charge farmers in other nations.

  • Seed companies must: ensure seeds labeled non-GE are accurate; provide clear instructions to reduce cross-pollination; and inform farmers of the risks of using GE crops.

  • EPA is required to take action to prevent resistance to Bt, an important organic pesticide.

  • The bill prohibits genetic engineering designed to produce sterile seeds.

Cosponsors: DeFazio (OR); Sanders (VT); Lee (CA); Conyers (MI); Olver (MA); Gutierrez (IL); Nadler (NY); Owens (NY); Velazquez (NY); Waters (CA); Watson (CA); Woolsey (CA); Acevedo-Vila (PR)

H.R. 2919 - The Genetically Engineered Organism Liability Act of 2003

Biotech companies are selling a technology that is being commercialized far in advance of the new science of genetic engineering. Farmers may suffer from crop failures. Neighboring farmers may suffer from cross-pollination, increased insect resistance, and unwanted "volunteer" GE plants. Therefore, biotech companies should be found liable for the failures of GE crops:

  • The bill places all liability from negative impacts of GE organisms squarely upon the biotechnology companies that created the GE organism.

  • Farmers are granted indemnification to protect them from the liabilities of GE crops.

Cosponsors: DeFazio (OR); Sanders (VT); Lee (CA); Conyers (MI); Olver (MA); Acevedo-Vila (PR); Gutierrez (IL); Nadler (NY); Owens (NY); Velazquez (NY); Waters (CA); Watson (CA); Woolsey (CA)

H.R. 2920 - Real Solutions to World Hunger Act of 2003

The demand for mandatory labeling, safety testing, and farmer protections do not constitute obstacles to the cessation of world hunger. Economics remain the significant barrier to a consistent food supply, and the development of expensive GE crops may only exacerbate this trend. However, agroecological interventions have had significantly more success in helping developing nations feed themselves with higher yields and improved environmental practices, all within reasonable costs for developing countries.

  • To protect developing nations, GE exports are restricted to those already approved in the U.S. and approved by the importing nation.

  • The bill creates an international research fund for sustainable agriculture research paid for the Sustainable Agriculture Trust Fund, a small tax on biotechnology company profits.

Cosponsors: DeFazio (OR); Sanders (VT); Lee (CA); Conyers (MI); Olver (MA); Acevedo-Vila (PR); Gutierrez (IL); Nadler (NY); Owens (NY); Velazquez (NY); Waters (CA); Watson (CA); Woolsey (CA)

H.R. 2921 - The Genetically Engineered Pharmaceutical and Industrial Crop Safety Act of 2003

A pharmaceutical crop or industrial crop is a plant that has been genetically engineered to produce a medical or industrial product. The new products are for medical or industrial purposes only and are not intended for the food supply or released into the environment. However, experts acknowledge that contamination of our food is inevitable due to the inherent imprecision of biological and agricultural systems. Contamination by pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops pose substantial liability and economic risks to farmers, grain handlers, and food companies.

  • The bill places a temporary moratorium on pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops until all regulations required in this bill are in effect.

  • The bill places a permanent moratorium on pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops grown in an open-air environment and on pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops grown in a commonly used food source.

  • The USDA shall establish a tracking system to regulate the growing, handling, transportation, and disposal of all pharmaceutical and industrial crops to prevent contamination.

  • The National Academy of Sciences shall issue a report that explores alternatives methods to produce pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals that do not present the risk of contamination.

Cosponsors: DeFazio (OR); Sanders (VT); Lee (CA); Conyers (MI); Gutierrez (IL); Nadler (NY); Owens (NY); Velazquez (NY); Waters (CA); Watson (CA); Woolsey (CA)


Naive, Narrow and Biased . . .

Interview by Ian Sample
The Guardian
July 24, 2003

Carlo Leifert explains why he resigned from the government's GM science review panel

When I joined the GM science review panel, I thought that we would be doing a detailed risk assessment. We would work out where there might be problems with GM, what the nature of the problems might be and what research had to be done to prove whether or not they were significant.

From the very start, we should have looked at whether something could go wrong with the technology itself. If you add an alien gene to a plant, how do you know what side effects you will get? We know that if we add genes to bacteria, it can change things unintentionally, and studies show this can happen in plants as well. How good are our methods to detect these unintentional changes?

But it soon became clear we wouldn't be doing a detailed risk assessment. Part of the problem came down to how scientific results are reported. If anyone had found that the GM process caused unwanted side effects in plants, it probably wouldn't make it into the scientific journals. Side effects would be viewed as negative results and scientists tend not to publish those. They often only get mentioned in PhD theses and reports to sponsors, because in those you have to explain why you've taken so long to do something. I made the point that to do a proper risk assessment, we needed to try and obtain that original data to get an idea of how often such side effects happen. This request was ignored. The panel felt we should focus mainly on peer-reviewed work and that going into that much detail would take too long. I completely disagreed with this approach.

It quickly became apparent that the panel wasn't balanced enough to produce an objective report. Most of the biologists who really understood the technical details of some of the arguments were strongly pro-GM. I felt that there should have been more specialists on board who weren't so indiscriminantly positive about the technology. There should have been more of an attempt to recruit scientists with good molecular biology knowledge and a more critical approach to the technology.

For me, the last straw came when someone from the biotech industry was asked to write the chapter on food safety. It seemed incredibly naive to me to have someone whose interest is in selling GM to do the risk assessment chapter. They were already convinced of its safety. I tried to resign quietly, because I was warned that it was not a good idea criticising your peers on scientific panels. But once everyone knew I had resigned and I was asked about my reasons, I felt that I had to explain why. Especially because what we have now from the panel is a report that is essentially pro-GM. It means the government decision makers may have to react to this scientific advice by allowing imports of GM crops and the growing of GM crops in the UK.

In my opinion, this report is not carefully enough researched to give the green light to GM and doesn't identify the uncertainties well enough.

The report mentions that Americans have eaten GM food for about seven years now and they haven't suffered. But nobody has actually investigated the effect of GM consumption on public health in the US. The argument doesn't make sense, and to have it coming from a scientific panel is really quite sad.

I don't believe the government has tried to force the science review in any particular direction to push an agenda. My feeling is they are concerned that GM technology could be risky to human health and the environment. I feel that the bias came from the strong lobby of pro-GM scientists and biotechnology representatives on the panel. They seem to be much more prepared to take little or no evidence as meaning no problem. I felt we should be more careful than that and say, let's get more information and then judge it.

There are already signs that Europe is being more cautious about GM technologies. The European Union is now seeking to fund research into ways of improving our ability to check GM plants for unwanted side effects. They have also put out a tender for testing the difficulties of co-existence between GM crops and non-GM crops). We should wait until we have better techniques and more information on the questions that are still open. As soon as improved methods for safety assessments are available we should insist they become part of the routine risk assessments of the GM companies.

One of the conclusions of the report is that we have to look at GM crops on a case-by-case basis. I wouldn't agree with that. Right now we still have to check that there isn't some inherent problem with the technology.

Professor Carlo Leifert, an expert in organic farming at the University of Newcastle, resigned from the government's GM science panel last week. The panel's final report was published on Monday.

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