Udall Votes Against Weak GMO Labeling Bill

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

From the Office of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall voted against weak compromise legislation designed to set food labeling standards for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Udall supports clear, concise labeling that allows consumers to easily understand what’s in their food and how it was grown. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 63-30, and must next be considered in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Udall said that while the compromise bill the Senate approved was an improvement over previous legislation designed purely to gut state-led efforts to label GMO products, it still would not provide clear labels for all food products and thus fell short of real transparency. The bill leaves open many questions about which foods would be covered by the mandatory labeling system. And Udall said his biggest concern is that it would allow manufacturers to avoid on package labels on food using a QR code, which can be read only if scanned with a smart phone. According to the Center for Food Safety, such a system would prevent over half of rural and low-income Americans — and over 65 percent of seniors — from accessing the information.

“New Mexicans deserve true transparency so they know whether the food they feed their families was produced with genetically engineered ingredients. But this bill fell short in too many ways — including the fact that rural, low-income and elderly New Mexicans might never be able to access the information they want and need,” Udall said. “We can strike a commonsense balance that works for everyone by simply listing GMO ingredients in a clear, accurate way, nationwide, and I’ll keep working for a better, stronger law.”

“The issue of genetically engineered foods is only one part of a much more complex and ominous problem facing Americans — the impact of chemical exposure on our health and our environment,” Udall continued. “One of the primary purposes of GMO crops is to resist toxic pesticides, and now our factory farms are doused with hundreds of millions of pounds of these chemicals. The full effect on our health is unknown, but pesticide exposure has been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer. When it comes to GMOs — New Mexicans should be able to see the facts on the package with their own eyes.”

Udall was the lead co-sponsor of the new bipartisan law that will reform our nation’s broken chemical safety program. His Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act reboots the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic chemicals safety program, and it will ensure that — for the first time — the EPA will evaluate the safety of all of the hundreds of new chemicals manufactured each year as well as the 85,000 chemicals currently in commerce. 

Udall also is a cosponsor of an alternative GMO labeling bill — the Biotechnology Food Labeling and Uniformity Act — which would enable consumers nationwide to get accurate information about GMO ingredients on food packaging while ensuring food manufacturers can rely on a uniform national standard. 

The Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act would amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require manufacturers to disclose the presence of genetically modified (GM) ingredients on the Nutrition Fact Panel in one of four ways: 

  • Manufacturers may use a parenthesis following the relevant ingredient to indicate that this ingredient is “Genetically Engineered.”
  • Manufacturers may identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredients list.
  • Manufacturers may simply apply a catch-all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering.” 
  • The FDA would have the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, that would clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of GM ingredients on packaging. 

None of these options would require front panel disclosures or “warning” statements intending to disparage GM ingredients.