American Canyon Eagle - Labeling Frankenfoods

Jul 29, 2015
News Articles
Noel Brinkerhoff

“Labeling” in the Napa Valley does not mean the same thing as it does in other agricultural areas.

Talk of labels here usually has to do with wines … as in who made it and what kind of grapes were involved.

But in other parts of California and the nation, the issue of labels has to do with the genetic engineering of foods, whether it’s corn, soybeans, salmon, or many other commodities whose DNA have been altered in a lab.

Opponents of genetically modified (GMO) foods (what some call Frankenfoods) have been arguing for the past several years for the government (states and federal) to require food producers to label any product containing GMO ingredients.

Food producers and other business interests, including GMO leader Monsanto, have spent heavily to fight these efforts mandating labels.

Still, proponents of GMO labeling have scored a few victories. Vermont, Connecticut and Maine have adopted such laws.

But these state-level mandates could become moot if Congress approves legislation that would supersede them and render them unenforceable.

H.R. 1599, the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” is anything but that according to proponent of GMO labeling, who have dubbed the bill the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act and the “Mother of All Monsanto Protection Acts.”

Whatever you call it, the legislation would establish a voluntary federal labeling standard while at the same time prevent states from forcing companies to put GMO labels on their foods.

Alarmed by H.R. 1599, several Napa County women recently asked for and got a meeting with Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, to discuss the issue.

Linda Price and Amy Martenson from Label GMOs Napa County, Lisa Lindsey from Moms Advocating Sustainability (MOMAS), and Beth Mattei, a concerned citizen and activist, sat down with Thompson at his Napa office earlier this month.

They urged him to vote against H.R. 1599. They also asked him to support another measure introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R. 913, the Genetically Engineered Right to Know Act, which labeling advocates want to see adopted because it would make GMO food labeling mandatory.

Thompson was happy to oblige their requests, having supported GMO labeling laws in the past.

“Mike was great,” said Mattei and Martenson in separate recollections of their meeting.

He voted against H.R. 1599, and became a cosponsor of H.R. 913, according to Austin Vevurka, Thompson’s spokesman in Washington, D.C.

“Congressman Mike Thompson believes people have a right to know what is in their food,” Vevurka wrote in an email to the Eagle.

Even with Thompson opposing H.R. 1599, the bill was approved by the House, and is now awaiting action in the Senate.

Martenson says her group plans to ask California’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to fight H.R. 1599 and keep it from passing.

Martenson also has been active at the local level, having run the Napa County campaign for Proposition 37, the ballot initiative in 2012 to require labeling of GMO foods in California. The measure failed, 51 percent to 49 percent.

Label GMOs Napa County has been active in trying to educate residents about the issue, and to get local politicians on their side.

Last year, the Napa County Local Food Advisory Council adopted a recommendation urging the county Board of Supervisors to declare their “support for passing federal and state regulations requiring labeling of all foods that are developed through genetic engineering or include genetically engineered ingredients in their manufacture.”

That was in March 2014.

The board, however, has yet to take action on the issue, now 16 months later.

GMO is not an issue in the wine industry because there are no genetically altered vines. And even if there were, a GMO labeling issue with wine would be a different battle since alcohol and food are regulated separately at higher governmental levels.

Still, Martenson, Mattei and others would like to see the supervisors get on board and express their public support for GMO labeling plans in Sacramento and Washington.