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6-Regulation: U.S. bill would take food-label rights away from states

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Bill would take food-label rights away from states
SOURCE: The New Mexican, USA, by Kristen Davenport
DATE:   22 Mar 2006

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Bill would take food-label rights away from states

A bill that would forbid states from labeling food products unless the
federal government allows it passed through the House of Representatives
last week without a single committee hearing.

"It was really bad," said Tom Udall, Northern New Mexico's Democratic
congressman. "In the normal legislative process, a bill goes through
committee, and the committee calls witnesses . What the Republicans do
now is bring up bills without ever letting the committees work their will."

In other words, the thousands of people who oppose the bill were not
heard. Udall said he received at least 500 letters, phone calls or e-
mails from New Mexicans opposing the bill -- and not one in favor.

The bill -- named the Food Uniformity Act -- has been slammed by opponents
as a bow to big agribusiness and those who don't want states to be
allowed to label foods containing genetically altered organisms.

"A lot of people don't know how much genetically engineered material is
in their food," said Bobbe Besold, a Santa Fe food activist and former
member of the now defunct Food Fight group. Food Fight used to organize
anti-GMO -- Genetically Modified Organism -- gatherings and provide
literature to people about genetically engineered food.

No research to date has conclusively shown that genetically modified
foods are harmful to human health. However, organic farmers say GMOs are
a threat to biodiversity and that pollen from such engineered crops
threatens to drift into organic gene pools.

"I see (this bill) as infringing on our rights -- withholding information
from the public and keeping us from being informed about what's in our
food," Besold said.

Opponents say the bill came about because certain large agriculture and
food-production companies -- such as Novartis, General Mills and Monsanto
-- dislike the increasing efforts by activists and others to pass laws
banning GMOs or requiring all GMO foods to be labeled as such. The Food
Uniformity Act allows states to appeal to the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration to have their labeling requirements adopted by the federal
agency. But Udall said that measure simply puts the cost and burden on
states, which isn't fair. "It will cost the states $100 million," Udall
said. "That really places an undue burden on them." Udall said the bill
certainly didn't originate with consumers or with state governments; it
originated with the food industry. "These big companies want to sweep
aside the right to label as the states want," Udall said. Many things
could be affected by the act, including small local farmers who label
their products "organically grown in New Mexico."

The bill was sponsored in the House by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Missouri , who
said the bill is necessary to eliminate the "patchwork" of safety laws
that differ from state to state.

"Creating a uniform system assures Americans that no matter where they
live or travel in the nation, they can depend on food labels to reflect
the contents of food and the potential for reactions to certain contents
," Rogers said in a press release after the bill was introduced in
December 2005.

"In today's worldwide market, it is essential that we have a mechanism
for a thorough, orderly foodlabeling system based on safe, scientific
guidelines," Rogers said.

But Udall said the measure also indicates that Republicans are abandoning
their decades-old belief in states' rights.

"That was a big part of the conservative philosophy," Udall said. "Let
the states do these things. When civil rights came up, that was their
mantra -- let's let the states do this. Anytime there's a federal program,
they say, 'Let the states do it.' Well, food-safety labeling is something
the states have traditionally done for themselves . And now they want to
take it away at the urging of these big special interests."

However, Udall said, it appears unlikely the bill will pass in the Senate
because the Senate's calendar is full and "there's not much space for
something like this."

So far, no states require labeling on all GMO crops, although the
European Union requires all food containing GMOs to be labeled as such.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
news & information

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