On Monday, 45 U.S. representatives and 10 U.S. senators signed a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in support of a legal petition that asks the FDA to require labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.


The petition, filed by nonprofit Center for Food Safety and supported by more than 400 health and consumer organizations and businesses, argues that consumers require more complete labeling in order to make informed decisions. Since October 2011, members of the public have submitted more than 850,000 comments in support of the petition. 

Genetically engineered foods are foods made from organisms — mainly plants — that have had their genes modified to exhibit specific desired traits, such as tomatoes modified to delay ripening or corn with built-in resistances to herbicides and insects. Such foods have been sold on the market since 1996.

Drafting of the bicameral congressional letter was led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR). It was signed by several members of congress recently tied to food safety issues, including Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY), Sen. Jon Tester (MT) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH). 

The letter called the FDA’s current policy on labeling inadequate because it only covers foods changed “materially” by taste, smell or other senses.

“The use of novel food technologies like genetic engineering on a commercial scale has so far slipped underneath FDA’s limited threshold for ‘materiality’ because such technologies make silent, genetic, and molecular changes to food that are not capable of being detected by human senses,” the letter read.

The 55 congress members argued that the basic issue under debate was the fundamental right of consumers to make informed decision about what they eat. Labeling foods does not imply that they are unsafe, but it does allow consumers to choose whether or not they want to purchase them, they said.

The FDA currently requires labeling for more than 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes, including other processes that similarly do not alter the food materially. The congress members cited the FDA’s rule requiring labeling of irradiated foods as an example of the FDA’s “reasonable” decision to look beyond sensory changes and label foods based on information consumers find important.

“We urge you to fully review the facts, law, and science, and side with the American public by requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods as is done in nearly 50 countries around the world,” the letter read.

Japan, Australia, China, Russia, Brazil and 15 European countries are among those requiring labeling for GE foods. 

Today, the majority of soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets and papayas grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered. Along with being modified for resistances to herbicides and insect pests, corn, the most thoroughly engineered crop, has seen some GE varieties become vitamin-fortified with beta carotene and vitamin C.

The FDA and many scientists have declared GE foods to be as safe as their unmodified counterparts. Critics, including other scientists, say that there has not been enough testing or tracking to verify whether or not GE foods present a safe alternative.

The complete list of congress members who signed the letter, provided by the Center for Food Safety’s True Food Network, follows below:

House Members: Peter DeFazio (OR-4), Richard Hanna (NY-24), Dennis Kucinich (OH-10), George Miller (CA-7), Louise Slaughter (NY-28), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Raul Grijalva (AZ-7), Peter Welch (VT-At Large), Hansen Clarke (MI-13), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Lloyd Doggett (TX-25), Anna Eshoo (CA-14), Sam Farr (CA-17), Maurice Hinchey (NY-22), Rush Holt (NJ-12), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Jim McDermott (WA-7), Madeleine Bordallo (GU-At Large), James Moran (VA-8), John Olver (MA-1), Jared Polis (CO-2), Charles Rangel (NY-15), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), Pete Stark (CA-13), Howard L. Berman (CA-28), Robert Brady (PA-1), David Cicilline (RI-1), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-11), Steve Cohen (TN-9), Dianne DeGette (CO-1), Bob Filner (CA-5), Barney Frank (MA-4), Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), Janice Hahn (CA-36), Michael Honda (CA-15), Barbara Lee (CA-9), Zoe Lofgren (CA-16), James McGovern (MA-3), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Jackie Speier (CA-12), John Tierney (MA-6), Melvin L. Watt (NC-12), Lynn Woolsey (CA-6), Maxine Waters (CA-35), and Grace Napolitano (CA-38).

Senators: Barbara Boxer (CA), Patrick Leahy (VT), Bernie Sanders (VT), Daniel Akaka (HI), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Ron Wyden (OR), Mark Begich (AK), Jon Tester (MT), Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Jeff Merkley (OR).

  • emmanuel

    I want to know what I am ingesting and do not want to be part of a science experiment

  • Ted

    I would prefer 55 congress members work to get our economy turned around and our national debt under control. Then maybe see about keeping us out of any military pissing match between Israel and Iran. Time enough after all that to putz around with goofy ‘labels to nowhere’.

  • For those of you too young or to demented to remember DDT, Thalidomide and Agent Orange, each touted as not only harmless, but beneficial – this same rift different temp. Not only is it dangerous to move ahead in this reckless manner on an entire country experiment, it is against the rule of law in the U.S. In the U.S. there is an implicit agreement between the consumer, that there is full disclosure on cans or packaging of what is in the product. GMO developers hold patents for their products, which means that they are implicitly different from the tomato or chicken that we have known before. There is an earthquake of difference between intentional mixing, hybrid formation, or accidental mutations and changing the genetic set within each DNA bit and the original organism. Now, it may be just fine, read it may. Or it may be like the IUD with copper, that developed a high allergic reaction in a few. Doesn’t it seem prudent to label all GMOs and product derivatives for several reasons. In any experiment you want to be able to sift the control from the non control group, ie. label the groups. Next if these items have patents and are different, shouldn’t the consumer know on all derivative product by a simple patent number, which would be searchable on line. And finally, if things go bad in a small or mass group manner, wouldn’t it be prudent for doctors, lab developers and consumers be empowered to back track the problem form the reporting of labeling. Finally, since GMOs are labeled in 50 other countries wouldn’t it be prudent for us, U.S., to label of trade reasons? Finally, I see this as a continuation of Citizen’s United, where the needs of the corporation are trying to take the front of the bus from the citizen. The only good thing I can say about GMOs is that it will be a boon for small non GMO local farmers and possibly revolutionize farming in America, finally giving them the grand advantage. But as a mother, grandmother and boutique farmer I have to ponder at what scale of human cost? Will we be lucky and have minimal reaction or will it be a sunami on our citizens?

  • Samantha

    How long before organic foods will have to be labeled with all the species of manure they were grown in? Shouldn’t those whole grain health foods have labels reporting fungal spore counts and mycotoxin levels? Congress could tackle these while they’re on the crucial subject of food labels (which no one reads, anyway). I think the Center for Food Safety should have a required warning label: “Contains wingnuts”. I try to avoid those because I am dreadfully allergic.

  • zak

    I love the people that say “It’s of no concern” or “We have better things to do” until the problems land on their doorstep. Then they cry that the “government didn’t protect us”.
    I’m with you Diane, if it’s genetically, chemically or otherwise adulterated, it’s a threat to my health until you can prove that it’s not.

  • Rudy

    Actually Samantha, with your allergies you might be glad to learn that unlike our conventional food supply — Organic is the ONLY label that PROHIBITS the use of raw manure on crops — and also has strict composting metrics in place.
    Further, unlike our conventional food supply, it also PROHIBITS the use of sewage sludge (treated human and industrial wastes) as a fertilizer on crops… and, unlike our conventional food supply, PROHIBITS the use of chicken manure as an ingredient in livestock feed…

  • d

    It is clear that many people are woefully uninformed about this topic. If Monsanto and the state of genetically-engineered foods does not greatly alarm you, then you have not done adequate research into the topic.
    The ramifications of GE/GM crops are HUGE for many reasons:
    1. Genetically-engineered seeds are considered intellectual property, protected by patents. Farmers must buy their seeds every year from Monsanto and are not allowed to save seeds from their crops for replanting the following year (the way farmers have done for thousands of years). This means you have one single source controlling access and cost for all of the seeds for all of our most important and widely-used food crops.
    2. Because #1 is so serious, I will repeat it: Monsanto controls access to all of the seeds for all of our major foods crops.
    3. If you are familiar with the potato famine and the concept of seed vaults, then you can appreciate the dire consequences of not maintaining both genetic diversity and genetic integrity of food crops. If you are not familiar with these topics, you should educate yourself. Because most people in this country have never experienced a food shortage, these concepts are not widely considered, and that is a dangerous situation.
    4. The problem of contamination: GE crops are contaminating non-GE, organic food crops. This is a HUGE problem because many of us do not want to consume GE foods, which have been linked to organ failure, and a host of other very potential health consequences. (You should research this further.)
    5. Because Monsanto is truly an evil empire and has a monopoly on all of our food crops and huge sums of money and power, they are able squash science and scientists that work in opposition to their products. They also have an entire PR company working on the image of their products and trying create the idea that anyone who opposes GM/GE crops is”unscientific”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    6. There are hoards of scientists who recognize that we are in the midst of a massive science experiment and that these GE crops have been manufactured with no appreciation for the potentially devastating consequences on human health and the environment and that they have put into our food supply with no meaningful testing.
    7. People have a right to know if foods contain GM/GE crops and have a right to avoid them. We already require ingredients to be listed- it’s no different. If you want to feed your family toxic garbage, that’s your prerogative. I do not.

  • Annie in Illinois

    Well said, “d.” I plan to quote you, would you like to be identified by more than “d?”

  • Why Do We have to fight the FDA for clean, healthy food? Next project please care about massive evidence proving soy is active endocrine disruptor that causes extensive developmental brain and body disease. For detail please look at: http://toxicstudylist.blogspot.com, and you will be outraged at NIH studies proving soy poisoning of which the FDA refuses to responsibly label.

  • “The FDA currently requires labeling for more than 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes, including other processes that similarly do not alter the food materially.” Color Additives in food, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices require approval by U.S. FDA. The form and frequency of approval depends on the particular Color Additive. For most Color Additives, the appropriate approval process is U.S. FDA’s Color Batch Certification program, which requires approval of each batch. For more information visit http:www.registrarcorp.com/

  • I’m glad to see so many are behind this! Let’s keep plugging away at informing the public and we’ll turn this beast around.

  • Rae

    Well said, “d” and “Rudy” – so many people are clueless or unwilling to see.
    Don’t the connect the dots? Can’t they recognize what’s been happening since the 90s?

  • Dianne Shaw

    This is a big deal and our representatives need to stand up for us and thei own families. I don’t wish to be a lab rat. I want to know what I’m feeding my family, and I don’t want it to be GE foods! Please listen to what the people you represent want and need. Do the right thing, not the lucrative thing. Otherwise we will all suffer for generations to come!

  • Don’t poison us.

  • aleman198

    Write your congressperson and thank them if they signed on. If your is not on the list, ask them why not. You can find their contact information at house.gov and senate.gov

  • shocked and appalled

    All this righteous indignation for GM “transparency”, all this bluff and bluster about gustatory “right to know”, all this mortified angst over being egregiously fleeced by nefarious food sellers…all those embarrassing over-acted theatrics…and then this little ray of light exposing GMO shenanigans in the certified organic program! I will let spellcheck help me with “hypocrites”, yeah that’s how it’s done!
    Oh, loving organic tycoons, tell us it ain’t so…again (then back up your tedious apologetic excuses with facts). Surely NOFA can get their propagandists working damage control here, and they will identify themselves as such…transparency, right?

  • JQ

    The petition they are supporting is riddled with errors of science, fact, and law.

  • THANK YOU to the Congress members who asked the FDA to label GE Foods!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Agnes

    I’ve been a part of several protest demanding labeling of GMO foods and applaude these representatives for standing up and speaking out for our health and safety.
    The “wing-nuts” are the ones who don’t get it, that slow poison in foods is only helping the profits of corporations like MONSANTO… MONSANTO invented AGENT ORANGE in the first place, and ROUND UP is some kind of derivative of that… and the genetic alterations being done to food crops is causing “Mother Nature” to evolve in ways that make their chemicals useless for their intended purpose…
    Michael R. Taylor is a Monsanto man who’s been bouncing between the FDA and Monsanto for too long… along with labeling food products we also need to stop Monsanto (and any multi-national food corporations) from having their executives bounce between the USDA and the FDA.
    Their involvement is a direc conflict of interest. They don’t work for food safety but for Monsanto profits.
    Thank you Congressional and Senatorial members for demanding labeling!!!
    In some other countries Monsanto is also losing in court due to the dangers their dangerous chemicals and GMO foods pose to the public.

  • If you would like to learn more about Genetically Modified Food then watch the following two documentries:
    The Future of Food (2004)
    Controlling Our Food: The World According To Monsanto

  • Lisafawn Marble

    Please make it LAW that MANDATES that any food containing at least one ingredient that has been geneticly modified BE LABLED as GENETICLY MODIFIED! The short term effects of geneticly modified feed fed to Livestock animals and to hamsters has shown it makes their offspring very DEFORMED with hair growing in their mouths and the third generation were majority STERILE and had very weakened immune sysytems. We CONSUMERS deserve to be INFORMED of the INGREDIENTs in all our foods, so we may make our purchases with Informed Consent!

  • Jennie

    That is an excellent statement and explanation … “The use of novel food technologies like genetic engineering on a commercial scale has so far slipped underneath FDA’s limited threshold for ‘materiality’
    because such technologies make silent, genetic, and molecular changes to food that are not capable of being detected by human senses,” the letter read.
    I thought it ironic hearing a commercial that was being aired, proudly telling the public not to worry about their “SUGAR” because “YOUR BODY DOESN’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE”! Yeah, just like the body is capable of accepting certain kinds of poisons without knowing the difference, until the it, the BODY IS DYING.

  • BetterThanAllOfYou

    Stop whining about your foods being modified. Have you ever microwaved anything? That’s irradiating it. Have you ever eaten a Raisin? Genetically modified. raisins don’t grow on trees.

  • Chase

    Ahem. BetterThanAllOfYou, you are an idiot. Raisins are dried grapes.