In response to mounting public pressure, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced companion bills in the Senate and House of Representatives requiring GMO labeling.  The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to state that a genetically engineered food or a food that contains a genetically engineered ingredient is misbranded if such information is not clearly disclosed.

The bill contains an exception for food that is served in restaurants and other similar eating establishments, such as cafeterias and carryouts.  Medical foods, foods produced using a genetically engineered vaccine, and foods that include the use of a genetically engineered processing aid, like yeast, or an enzyme are also exempt from mandatory disclosure.

Additionally, a person who fails to clearly label a bioengineered food as such in violation of the law will not be held liable for the violation if he or she received in good faith a written, signed guarantee from whom he or she received the food from, stating that the food is not genetically engineered or does not contain a genetically engineered ingredient.  Similarly, an agricultural producer will not be liable for a violation if it occurred as a result of unintended contamination so long as the producer was not negligent.

Although the public strongly supports GMO labeling bills, the biotechnology industry vigorously opposes it.   According to biotechnology companies like Monsanto, GMO labeling is misleading because it causes consumers to believe that genetically engineered food or a food that contains a genetically engineered are inferior, when FDA has already determined such foods are not materially different than non-GMO food.

If the bill passes, the biotechnology industry will likely challenge it in court as unconstitutional compelled speech.  In such a challenge, the biotechnology industry will likely allege that the law requires more than just a factual disclosure about food products being offered in the marketplace, and that what the law really requires is an implied statement that bioengineered foods are inferior, which is a highly controversial message with which the biotechnology industry disagrees.

 

 

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