Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued a wake up call to Americans that it will not step in to protect farmers and consumers who want to proceed with caution before allowing further spread of genetically modified organisms. In its first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms) the Court overturned a lower court’s nationwide ban on the cultivation of a form of alfalfa which was genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to glyphosate (an herbicide widely used by farmers). Alfalfa is the fourth-most widely grown crop in the US, and is a key source of dairy forage. Organic and conventional alfalfa farmers, together with consumers, brought the court case out of fear of the very real possibility of widespread contamination from GE alfalfa to conventional, organic, and wild alfalfa strains which are non-GE. Although the USDA was ordered to continue its full, lengthy review of the GE alfalfa before the crop will be allowed to enter the commercial market, much of the damage to farmers and to the environment will have already been done. The court case has made clear that Monsanto and other GE seed manufacturers have wide latitude to release these uncontrollable seeds into the wild without giving the environmental effects the consideration that is merited.
Today, I will introduce three bills that will provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for all GE plants, animals, bacteria, and other organisms. To ensure we can maximize benefits and minimize hazards, Congress must provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for all GE products. Structured as a common-sense precaution to ensure GE foods do no harm, these bills will ensure that consumers are protected, food safety measures are strengthened, farmers’ rights are better protected and biotech companies are responsible for their products.
Americans—be they farmers growing industrial or pharmaceutical crops, or consumers purchasing foods made from GE crops— have the right to know: Are GE seeds—and the foods made from them—safe, both to grow and to eat? What are the long-term effects of growing GE crops, on the farm and on the environment? And do we even know when we are eating them? Should non-GE farmers be responsible if GE crops drift into their fields?
The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act
- Requires food companies to label all foods that contain or are produced with GE material and require the FDA to periodically test products to ensure compliance;
- Authorizes voluntary, non-GE food labels, exempting food served in restaurants;
- Establishes a legal framework to ensure the accuracy of labeling without creating significant economic hardship on the food production system.
The Genetically Engineered Safety Act
- Requires the FDA to screen all GE foods through the current food additive process to ensure safety for human consumption. Continues FDA discretion in applying the safety factors that are generally recognized as appropriate;
- Places a temporary moratorium on pharmaceutical crops and industrial crops until all regulations required by the bill are in effect;
- Requires that unique concerns regarding GE foods be explicitly examined in the review process; provides for a phase out of antibiotic resistance markers; implements a prohibition on known allergens; and requires the FDA to conduct a public comment period of at least 30 days;
- 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;
- Requires the United States Department of Agriculture to establish a tracking system to regulate the growing, handling, transportation, and disposal of all pharmaceutical and industrial crops and their byproducts to prevent contamination;
- Calls on the National Academy of Sciences to submit to Congress a report that explores alternative methods to produce pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals that have the advantage of being conducted in controlled production facilities and do not present the risk of contamination.
The Genetically Engineered Technology Farmer Protection Act
- Gives farmers the ability to save seeds and to seek compensation for failed GE crops;
- Prohibits genetic engineering designed to produce sterile seeds;
- Places all liability from negative impacts of GE organisms squarely upon the biotechnology companies that created the GE organism.
If you wish to become an original cosponsor, would like a more detailed summary of any of the legislation or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me, or Yonatan Zamir of my staff, at 5-5871.
Dennis J. Kucinich
Member of Congress