GMO labeling activists oppose continuing resolution provision

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 27, 2013- A demonstration organized by supporters of labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products today consisted of a handful of activists attempting to grab the attention of passers-by and tourists in front of the White House.    

“Food Democracy Now!” planned the protest to President Barack Obama's approval of HR 933, the six-month continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded, because it included a certain biotechnology provision.

What the activists call the “Monsanto Protection Act” refers to USDA permitting guidelines for transgenic crops.  The “biotech rider” included in the CR requires that USDA allow farmers to continue growing biotech crops that USDA deregulated, but a judge later invalidated.  

 

According to the provision in Section 735 of the CR, if an approved status is reversed, USDA shall, upon request, immediately issue permits to temporarily allow farmers to continue growing and selling the crop until USDA finishes re-evaluating its environmental impacts. The provision applies to situations similar to those involving Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant alfalfa and sugar beet varieties. A Congressional Research Service report on the topic is available here.

Supporters of the biotech provision say the language protects farmers that have already made planting decisions, but anti-GMO activists claim the rider “gives biotech seed companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical a blank check on the approval of new genetically engineered crops.”

The provision “undermines the independence of judicial review,” according to the activist group, which also specifically opposed thirteen genetically engineered crops pending approval at the USDA and AquaBounty's GMO salmon at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Although the demonstration included fewer than ten members, “Food Democracy Now!” said 250,000 members signed a letter to President Obama asking that he strike the provision in the CR. Activists from “Occupy Monsanto” and “Green America” said they did not expect a larger rally today. 

 

To promote mandatory GMO labeling and ask Obama to “keep his promise,” food labeling proponents often use Obama's words from the campaign trail in 2007. “Here's what I'll do as president…we'll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they're buying,” Obama says in the recording.

Neither the White House nor USDA has signaled support for mandatory GMO labeling. However, earlier this month, the grocery chain Whole Foods announced it will require that certain food products sold in its stores have labels indicating they contain biotech ingredients by 2018.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization stated that it supports “the voluntary labeling of products to meet specific demands of consumers in the marketplace,” but also the science-based labeling policy of the FDA.

FDA policy “requires that mandatory food labeling present only information regarding nutritional content or health-related characteristics, such as allergenicity or toxicity,” according to BIO. “These are not concerns that have ever been associated with foods improved through biotechnology.”

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