BOULDER — More than 50 countries around the world require labeling or restrictions of genetically modified foods but the United States is not one of them. That would change if Congress can swallow a bill championed by U.S. Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Before a large crowd of Boulderites clamoring for healthier foods, Congressman Polis held a press conference at Alfalfa's Market on Wednesday to announce the proposed genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling bill.
"This bill is not about the health or environmental impacts of GMOs, which are important discussions, but rather it's about consumer freedom and choice," Polis said.
While the impetus of the legislation is to empower consumers to make well-informed decisions, the law would be "good for businesses" and Colorado farmers, he said, noting that an "additional benefit of this law is American products would be ready to export to some of the markets that already require GMO labeling."
Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly believe foods containing compromised DNA should be identified for consumers.
But the opposition to GMO labeling is fierce. A bill that would have labeled so-called "Frankenfoods"in California was defeated last November after DuPont, Monsanto and Pepsi spent some $46 million on a raft of television ads that claimed the bill would cause family grocery bills to spike and farmers' profits to sink.
"The fact they would want to hide this information only raises more concerns," Polis said.
The host of the event, Mark Retzloff, co-founder and chairman of Alfalfa's Market, explained how he lobbied for the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which he said has created a level playing field for the $30 billion industry and boosted consumers' confidence in the products they purchase.
Both Retzloff and Doug Radi, senior vice president of Rudi’s Organic Bakery Inc., said organic labeling has set the stage for GMO labeling. "We have the same opportunity for GMOs," Radi said.
Tyler Holm, an executive for Boulder-based Horizon Organic and Silk foods, also spoke at the press conference endorsing GMO transparency. And Becky O'Brien, director of Hazon Boulder — America's largest Jewish environmental organization — said labeling reflects the values of faith-based societies.
At the state level, Colorado Rep. Jeanne Labuda, D-Denver, has introduced a bill calling for the labeling of genetically engineered food too. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee in Denver on Thursday and if passed, it would move to the entire state House.
Other efforts to identify GMOs are under way in Hawaii, New Mexico, Missouri, Vermont and Washington.
"There is a revolution going on in our country," Radi said. "The time is now."
In response to a question from the audience, Polis acknowledged the tough road ahead.
"It's going to be an uphill battle to get this passed," he said. "It doesn't mean we can't lay the ground work or succeed, but it'll be a really tough fight."