Groups to Obama: Keep your promise on GMOs

A group of House Democrats joined more than 200 companies and organizations Thursday in pressing President Obama to keep a seven-year-old campaign pledge to impose mandatory labeling requirements on genetically engineered foods.

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In a forcefully worded letter to Obama, the groups urged Obama to use the power of his office to require any products containing genetically modified organisms — known as GMOs or GEs — to be branded as such.

“Mr. President, we urge you to fulfill your commitment to require GE labeling and to add the United States of America to the list of 64 nations that have already given their consumers the right to know what is in their food,” the groups said.

Ben & Jerry’s, Greenpeace and the Center for Food Safety were among the firms, environmental groups and consumer watchdogs that signed onto the letter.

Food made with genetically enhanced ingredients has appeared in grocery stores and on American dinner tables for years. Big agriculture and biotechnology industry groups maintain GMOs are perfectly safe and vital to the global food supply.

Current FDA policy, rooted in a 1992 policy decision, does not consider a product’s inclusion of GMO ingredients as material information that must be disclosed. But labeling advocates contend the president has the authority to issue regulations requiring labels under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act.

“My view is people have a right to know about the food they are buying,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said during a news conference Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers and food safety advocates point to remarks made by Obama in 2007, when he was running for president.

“We’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified,” he pledged.

The Obama administration has taken several major actions on food safety. Chief among them was championing the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. Regulations now being drafted under the landmark law represent the largest overhaul of the country’s food safety system in 70 years.

Under Obama, the FDA is also moving forward with plans to rid the food supply of trans fats and phase out the use of antibiotics in meat. This year, the agency will launch new initiatives targeting sodium and caffeine.

But the administration has remained largely silent on the GMO issue, despite high-profile state campaigns to pass labeling laws and increasing pressure from activist groups.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) urged Obama to take “one more tiny little step toward giving Americans more information about the food we consume on a daily basis.”

DeFazio’s remarks belie the intensity of the debate over GMO labels. Industry groups poured tens of millions of dollars into campaigns to defeat mandatory labeling bills in California and Washington.

And, in a development first reported by The Hill, a coalition of industry groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association is poised to introduce its own legislation calling for a voluntary federal labeling system.

Food safety advocates brush off the bill as a thinly veiled effort to pre-empt states from passing mandatory labeling laws.

“I’m tired of voluntary efforts because they never materialize,” DeLauro said Thursday.

DeFazio and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation that would impose national mandatory labeling requirements. But the bills are seen as having little chance of passage in the divided Congress.

Given the current political landscape, some lawmakers — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — are calling on Obama to impose the requirements via executive action. 

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