The Federal GMO Labeling Bill Is Back With New Celebrity Support

Legislation that would require labeling of products containing genetically modified ingredients is reintroduced in the House and Senate.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Feb 12, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

It was one of those Groundhog Day-like moments that happens so often in Congress: Thursday morning, lawmakers and activists gathered in Washington, D.C., to announce a bill, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require that all products containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled. In 2013, the same lawmakers—Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.—introduced a bill with the same name that, despite the Democrats’ control of the Senate, failed to go much of anywhere.

So here we are again, two years later—following the passage of state laws that promise to eventually label GMO items in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, and ballot initiative failures in Colorado and Washington state—presenting the tweaked legislation once again. While the language of the bill is somewhat different, the biggest difference this go-around is the bill’s new celebrity champion: restaurateur and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio.

“The public wants more information about the food they are buying and how it’s grown,” Colicchio said in a press release. “I applaud Sens. Boxer and Blumenthal and Rep. DeFazio for their leadership and urge their colleagues to join them in standing up for the 93 percent of Americans who want to know whether their food has been genetically modified.”

The reality television star has become increasingly vocal on food politics, using his celebrity to address antihunger efforts and going so far as to cofound the pro-GMO labeling organization Food Policy Action.

Despite having support from both of Alaska’s Republican Senators, who strongly oppose the development of genetically engineered salmon, the bill seems unlikely to pass in the GOP-controlled Congress. But it’s far from being the only labeling law under consideration. Labeling laws are being considered in 11 states, and New York’s state assembly passed a bill this week that would help protect small farmers who are sued for patent violation by seed companies. The law allows farmers to argue that they aren’t responsible for the presence of patent-protected genes on their farm—or in their seed—if it drifted from a nearby property. A similar bill is currently being considered by the New York state senate. The federal labeling requirement so many right-to-know activists desire may be far off, but other, smaller victories could come this year.

“We cannot continue to keep Americans in the dark about the food they eat,” Rep. DeFazio said in a press release today. “More than 60 other countries make it easy for consumers to choose. Why should the U.S. be any different? If food manufacturers stand by their product and the technology they use to make it, they should have no problem disclosing that information to consumers.”

Some way, somehow, he and others plan to make such disclosure a reality.