GMO Labeling Bill Introduced in U.S. Congress

February 20th, 2013

Food Safety News
By Dan Flynn

Jared Polis

Jared Polis

Today Colorado’s Jared Polis will announce, outside a reborn organic retail store in Boulder, that he is introducing a federal bill in Congress to mandate the labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms in all 50 states.

And next Tuesday, the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee will hold a public hearing on state House Bill (HB) 0903, setting disclosure and labeling requirements for GMO foods. A similar bill was introduced in Iowa, and Washington State’s Initiative 522 is still moving along.

A battle in Congress over uniform labeling of genetic changes to food would be bigger and more costly than even last November’s initiative campaign in California. Whether Rep. Polis (D-Boulder) can turn his bill into more than just a district press event with a big donor, remains to be seen.

Polis is taking on some heavy lifting in the current Congress. His name is already on bills to “de-federalize” and then tax marijuana. Those two bills are an attempt to make federal law consistent with Colorado and Washington State laws, where voters have made recreational use of marijuana legal and created a legal thicket.

In a press release announcing tomorrow’s event, Polis said he is proud “to help lead the GMO labeling bill.” He says it is all about “consumer choice and information.”

“It’s important to empower people with information they need to make their own healthy choices,” he said. “People have the right to make consumer decisions based on accurate transparency in labeling, and knowledge is power.”

Polis serves on House schools and rules committees, but was just named parliamentarian for the minority party whip organization, which gives him a toe-hold in leadership.

At today’s press event, he’ll be standing beside Mark Retzloff, chairman of Alfalfa’s Market. Retzloff was a pioneer in organic retailing, opening the organize Pearl Street Market in Boulder back in 1979, evolving it into “Alfalfa’s” in 1983 and then expanding to 11 stores. Alfalfa’s merged with Wild Oats Markets in 1996.

Jack Mackey and his girlfriend Rene Lawson started “SaferWay,” the organic store in Austin that would evolve into Whole Foods Market in 1978. It made unsuccessful plays for Alfalfa’s before acquiring it with the purchase of Wild Oats in 2007. The Federal Trade Commission challenged the sale, but it was eventually approved by a federal judge who included a requirement that Whole Foods to sell off a dozen existing and 19 former organic grocery store sites.

It was retailers like Retzloff and Mackey who were among those responsible for U.S. sales of organic food and beverages going from $1 billion in 1990 to almost $27 billion by 2010. Annual sales for 331 Whole Foods Markets currently stand at about $9 billion.

A site that Whole Foods had to shed – the location of the original Alfalfa’s Market – is now back in Retzloff’s possession and called Alfalfa’s once more.

That location, 1651 Broadway in Boulder, is the Alfalfa’s where Polis will be conducting his press conference today.

Retzloff, a contributor of at least $4,700 to “Friends of Jared Polis” since 2007, has donated $33,500 directly to Democratic candidates over the same time period, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

But not all of Retloff’s interests are popular in organic circles.

The 62-year-old Retloff also serves on the Board of Directors for Aurora Organic Dairy, which last year agreed to pay plaintiffs $7.5 million in a class-action consumer fraud lawsuit to settle charges alleging that the company made fraudulent marketing claims concerning organic milk.

The Cornucopia Institute said Boulder-based Aurora Diary is “a giant factory farm operator with industrial scale operations in Colorado and Texas.” The settlement ended a challenge to Aurora originally brought to the USA by Cornucopia.

After California’s Proposition 37 went down in defeat, proponents of GMO labeling have looked for other states that might adopt such a measure.

A GMO labeling bill was tabled fairly early in the current session of the New Mexico Legislature. HB 0903 is getting a public hearing in Maryland, but Senate File (SF) 194 in the Iowa Senate hasn’t yet gone anywhere.

In Washington State, an Initiative to the Legislature, I-522, will go to the voters this fall if lawmakers do not act upon it first, giving voters an alternative to chew on.

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