Open Letter to Bernie Sanders: Please Lead the Effort to Protect Consumers’ Right to Know

Dear Senator Sanders,

On behalf of the Organic Consumers Association, which represents more than 1 million Americans, I ask that you take the lead in protecting the right of consumers to know if their food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by issuing a public statement opposing HR 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, and by urging your fellow senators to oppose a Senate version of this bill.

On July 23, 2015, the US House of Representatives passed HR 1599, a bill written by the biotech and processed food industries that preempts states’ rights to pass laws requiring the mandatory labeling of GMOs, and would prevent passage of a federal mandatory GMO labeling law.

In other words, if this bill becomes law, US consumers will be permanently deprived of this basic information.

HR 1599 is a prime example of how corporate money corrupts the political process in order to create laws that protect corporate profits at the expense of US citizens. According to a report from Open Secrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, the 275 members of the US House who voted in favor of HR 1599 received $29.9 million in contributions from the agribusiness and food industries in the 2014 cycle.

HR 1599 legally sanctions corporate deceit by guaranteeing the legal right of food manufacturers to withhold the fact that their products contain GMOs. In place of requiring food manufacturers to disclose this information – information that these same companies are required to disclose under labeling laws enacted in 64 other countries – HR 1599 creates a government-run, voluntary non-GMO labeling program that places the burden of labeling on producers of non-GMO products. Contrary to what the bill’s proponents claim, it does nothing to ensure that the 90 percent of consumers who want GMO foods labeled will ever actually have this information.

HR 1599 gives the producers of GMO foods an unfair advantage in the marketplace by allowing companies to continue to deceiveconsumers. If GMOs are as safe as the industry claims, why not label them, and let consumers make an informed choice? Isn’t that howthe free market is supposed to work?

HR 1599 is also a direct attack on the Tenth Amendment and states’ rights. In fact, it is being rushed through Congress specifically tohead off enactment of Vermont’s Act 120, the country’s first GMO labeling law, slated to take effect July 1, 2016.

As a senator from Vermont, an outspoken critic of corporate influence in politics and a sponsor of the Genetically Engineered FoodRight-to-Know Act, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) to establish a uniform federal standard for mandatory labeling of GMOs (this bill would be preempted by HR 1599), you are in the ideal position to draw mass media attention to this issue, and to convince your fellow senators that it should not progress any further.

HR 1599 was sold to Congress on the basis of unfounded claims that mandatory labeling will raise food costs, that state GMO labeling laws will create a “messy patchwork” of regulations creating a financial burden for food manufacturers, and that there is scientific consensus that GMOs are safe. All of these claims have been proven false, over and over, by legitimate economists, scientists and journalists.

Please issue a public statement opposing HR 1599, and please lead a movement in the US Senate to defeat this bill, or any version of a bill that would preempt state or federal mandatory labeling of GMOs.

Thank you.

Ronnie Cummins
International Director
The Organic Consumers Association