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Public Statements

Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, I will be speaking about two amendments that I intend to offer as part of the farm bill. I think both amendments are extremely important, and both amendments have the support of the vast majority of the people of our country. They may not have the support of powerful special interests, but I think that from Maine to California, people will be supporting these amendments.

The first one is amendment No. 2310, which is cosponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

All across our country, people are becoming more and more conscious about the foods they are eating and the foods they are serving to their kids, and this is certainly true for genetically engineered foods. This is a major concern in my State of Vermont, I know it is a major concern in Senator Boxer's State of California, and it is a major concern all over our country.

This year in my State of Vermont, our legislature tried to pass a bill that would have required foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients to have that information on their labels.

That information would simply give consumers in the State of Vermont the knowledge about the ingredients that are in the food they are ingesting--not, I believe, a terribly radical idea.

I personally believe, and I think most Americans believe, that when a mother goes to the store and purchases food for her child, she has the right to know what she is feeding her child, what is in the food she is giving to her kids and her family. This concern about genetically engineered labeling brought out a huge turnout to the Vermont State legislature of people who were supportive of this concept. In fact, it was one of the most hotly debated and discussed issues in our legislature this year. Over 100 Vermonters testified at a committee meeting--the Committee on Agriculture meeting of the State of Vermont--in favor of this legislation. We are a small State. Hundreds more crowded in the statehouse to show their support.

What people in Vermont, and I believe all over this country, are saying, simply and straightforwardly, is: We want to know what is in the food we are eating and whether that food is genetically engineered. Clearly, this is not just a Vermont issue. Almost 1 million people in the State of California signed a petition to get labeling of genetically engineered food on the November ballot. In California, a big State, 1 million people is a lot of people. In other words, what we are seeing from Vermont and California and all over this country is people want to know what is in the food they are eating and they want to know whether that food is genetically engineered. I thank Senator Boxer of California for representing the people of her State in cosponsoring this legislation.

This is not just a Vermont issue. It is not just a California issue. According to an MSNBC poll in February of 2011, 95 percent of Americans agree that labeling of food with genetically engineered ingredients should be allowed. Those polling numbers have been consistently over 90 percent dating back to 2001.

What we are seeing in polling, year after year, is people want to know what is in the food they are eating. Not everybody agrees. Monsanto, one of the world's largest producers of genetically engineered food, does not like this idea. Monsanto is also the world's largest producer of the herbicide Roundup, as well as so-called Roundup Ready seeds that have been genetically engineered to resist the pesticide. It is no mystery why Monsanto would fight people's right to know. Business is booming for this huge chemical company. It raked in over $11 billion in revenues and cleared $1.6 billion in profits in 2011. This year is going pretty well for Monsanto.

Once it seemed possible that Vermont could pass the bill. That is because the people of the State of Vermont want to see that legislation passed. But our friends at Monsanto threatened to sue the State if that bill was passed. Sadly--and this is what goes on in politics, not just on this issue but on so many issues--despite passing out of the House Committee on Agriculture by a vote of 9 to 1, the bill did not make it any further because of the fear of a lawsuit from this huge, multinational corporation.

Today, we have an opportunity, with the Sanders-Boxer amendment, amendment No. 2310, to affirm States rights to label food that contains genetically engineered ingredients. This amendment recognizes that the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly reserves powers in our system of federalism to the States and to the people. In other words, that is what federalism is about. This amendment acknowledges that States have the right to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering or derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered. Simply put, this amendment gives people the right to know. It says that a State, if its legislature so chooses, may require that any food or beverage containing a genetically engineered ingredient offered for sale in that State have a label that makes that information public and clear.

It also requires that the Commissioner of the FDA, with the Secretary of Agriculture, shall report to Congress within 2 years on the percentage of food and beverages in the United States that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

There are strong precedents for labeling. The FDA, as everybody knows, already requires the labeling of over 3,000 ingredients, additives, and processes. If we want to know if our food contains gluten, aspartame, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats or MSG, we simply read the ingredients label. Similarly, the FDA requires labeling for major food allergens such as peanuts, wheat, shellfish, and others. But Americans, for some reason, are not afforded that same information when it comes to genetically engineered foods.

Here is a very important point to make. What I am asking now, for the people of America, is something that exists right now all over the world. Genetically engineered foods are already required to be labeled in 49 countries around the world, including Russia, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, China, New Zealand, and others, and the entire European Union allows its countries to require such labels, which is essentially what this amendment is about. It is not telling, but it is allowing States the right to go forward, if that is what the people of those States want.

If this is good for 49 or more countries around the world, why is it not acceptable in the United States of America? The answer is pretty simple. We have a large, powerful, multinational corporation that is more concerned about their own profits than they are about allowing the American people to know what is in the food they are eating.

Let me clarify just a few pieces of information regarding genetically engineered foods. Monsanto claims there is nothing to be concerned about with genetically engineered foods. In the 1990s, there was a consensus among scientists and doctors at the FDA that GE foods could have new and different risks, such as hidden allergens, increased plant toxin levels, and the potential to hasten the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease, but those concerns were quickly pushed aside in the name of biotechnology progress. Their concerns were not, however, unfounded.

In May 2012, a landmark independent study by Canadian doctors published in the peer-reviewed journal Reproductive Toxicology found that toxins from soil bacterium which had been engineered into Bt corn to kill pests was present in the bloodstream of 93 percent of pregnant women as well as in 80 percent of their fetal cord blood. In the wake of

this study, action is being taken. In 3 days, on June 17, the American Medical Association will consider resolutions that ask for studies on the impacts of GE foods and labeling. Resolutions calling for labeling of GE foods have already been passed by the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association.

There is a great need for this information because there have never been mandatory human clinical trials of genetically engineered crops--no tests for the possibility of it causing cancer or for harm to fetuses, no long-term testing for human health risks, no requirement for long-term testing on animals, and only limited allergy testing. What this means is that for all intents and purposes, the long-term health study on GE food is being done on the American people. We are the clinical test.

Let me clarify just a few things about labeling genetically engineered food. GE food labels will not increase costs to shoppers. Everybody knows companies change their labels all the time. They market their products differently and adding a label does not change this. In fact, many products already voluntarily label their food as ``GMO free.'' Further, genetically engineered crops are not better for the environment. For example, the use of Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans engineered to withstand the exposure to the herbicide Roundup has caused the spread of Roundup-resistant weeds which now infest 10 million acres in 22 States, with predictions of 40 million acres or more by mid-decade. Resistant weeds increase the use of herbicides and the use of older and more toxic herbicides.

Further, there are no international agreements that prohibit the mandatory identification of foods produced through genetic engineering. But as I mentioned, 49 other countries already require it.

The Sanders-Boxer consumers right to know about genetically engineered food amendment, amendment No. 2310, is about allowing States to honor the wishes of their residents and allowing consumers to know what they are eating. If this is not a conservative amendment, I do not know what is. Americans deserve the right to know what they and their children are eating and that is what this amendment is all about. Monsanto and other major corporations should not be the ones to decide this issue. The Congress and the American people should make that decision. Without commonsense labeling requirements, the 295 million American citizens who favor labeling, the overwhelming majority of Americans who in poll after poll said yes, want to know whether the food they are eating contains genetically engineered products. They are not being listened to. On behalf of the American people who want to know what is in their food, I urge support for this important amendment.

I have another amendment, but I will come back at another time to talk about the amendment, which will demand that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission do what the law requires of them; that is, end excessive speculation in the oil futures market, but I will hold off on that until a later time.

I yield the floor.


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