July 21, 2015

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representative:

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, strongly urges you to vote no on H.R. 1599, introduced by Representative Pompeo, which we understand the House will consider this week.  The bill would very broadly preempt state laws relating to genetically engineered (GE) food and crops, and ban any level of government from requiring GE food to be labeled as such.

Consumers Union supports mandatory labeling of GE food, and opposes H.R. 1599, for several reasons.  First, consumers want labeling.  Polls, including our own, show that more than 90% of consumers want GE food to be labeled accordingly.  Yet H.R. 1599 would codify current prevailing federal policy, in which any labeling of GE food must be the voluntary choice of the food producer – a policy which has only generated confusion.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) adopted this policy 15 years ago, and today there is not a single food product on the market that carries a label indicating it contains GE ingredients.

Second, there are numerous precedents for mandatory labeling.  FDA already requires labeling of food if it is homogenized, frozen, or made from concentrate.  Some 64 countries, including most of our major trading partners, require labeling of GE food.

Third, states have begun to act on the clear requests of their citizens for information on whether the food they buy contains GE ingredients.  Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have passed legislation requiring labeling of food from GE plants.  Other states, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois, have considered bills.  Whether enacted by state legislatures or approved by voters, the ability of states to act democratically to carry out the wishes of their citizens on GE food labeling should not be impeded by Congress.

Fourth, H.R. 1599 would permit the use of “natural” claims on the labels of GE food until FDA finalizes a rule defining “natural” and decides whether it will continue to allow this practice.  The bill would also prohibit states from taking their own steps to regulate the use of these claims.  Polling by Consumer Reports has found that more than 60% of consumers are misled, in that they already believe a “natural” label on a product means it does not contain genetically modified ingredients.  Fully 85% of consumers think that a “natural” label on packaged or processed foods should mean no genetically modified ingredients were used.  Yet Consumer Reports testing last year identified five food products labeled “natural” that actually did contain such ingredients.  By allowing foods labeled as “natural” to contain GE ingredients, H.R 1599 would authorize a deceptive practice that is highly inconsistent with consumer expectations.

Fifth, mandatory GE food labeling would not be expensive.  An analysis commissioned by Consumers Union and conducted by an independent economic research firm found from a review of published research that the median cost of requiring GE food labeling is $2.30 per person annually – less than a penny a day for each consumer.  This figure takes into account one-time implementation expenses, so the actual cost per person could be even lower.

Finally, H.R. 1599 goes beyond the question of labeling to explicitly prohibit state or local requirements related to the use of GE plants for food in interstate commerce.  Restrictions on growing such crops in California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii would likely be severely restricted or invalidated.  These measures were adopted for a variety of reasons, including to prevent the contamination of specialty crops destined for export, protect against invasive species, and limit the use of toxic pesticides, such as glyphosate, which many GE crops have been engineered to tolerate and which was recently classified by the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm as probably carcinogenic to humans.

We therefore strongly urge you to vote no on H.R. 1599, which is contrary to what consumers want, and which would profoundly interfere with the ability of state and local governments to respond to the needs of their citizens.

Sincerely,

Jean Halloran
Director, Food Policy Initiatives
Consumers Union

Urvashi Rangan
Director, Consumer Safety and Sustainability
Consumer Reports

Enclosures:

(1)  FAQs About GMOs, Consumer Reports (Mar. 2015) (online at consumersunion.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/FAQs_About_GMOs_CR_0315.pdf).

(2)  Sorting through the confusion about GMOs, Consumer Reports (June 19, 2015) (online at consumersunion.org/2015/06/infographic-sorting-through-the-confusion-about-gmos).

(3)  Mark Spitznagel and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Another ‘Too Big to Fail’ System in G.M.O.s, New York Times (July 13, 2015) (online at nyti.ms/1K4pzGG).