Barbara Boxer talks tough for GE food labeling

Undaunted by last year’s defeat of a similar ballot measure, U.S. Barbara Boxer is talking tough in support of her bill to requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Boxer, D-Calif., was at Clif Bar’s Emeryville headquarters Thursday to tout her “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act,” S.809, which she introduced a few weeks ago. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has introduced a companion House bill.

Boxer at Clif Bar 5-2-13“We deserve to have the right to know what’s in the foods we eat,” Boxer said, noting she first introduced a similar bill 13 years ago when public support was far less than it is today. “If these companies believe in their products, they should have nothing to fear.”

Boxer’s said more than 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The Food and Drug Administration now requires labeling of more than 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes, but in a 1992 policy statement allowed genetically engineered foods to be marketed without labeling, claiming that these foods were not “materially” different from other foods because the genetic differences could not be recognized by taste, smell or other senses.

But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recognized that these foods are materially different and novel for patent purposes, Boxer noted, and more than 1.5 million Americans have filed comments with the FDA urging the agency to label GE foods.

The food industry spent about $46 million last year to defeat California’s Proposition 37, a similar labeling measure, Boxer said Thursday. But she noted the Senate and House bills already have several dozen co-sponsors and around a hundred organizational supporters, and with more than 20 states currently considering their own labeling bills, it would be better to have a single federal standard than a state-by-state patchwork.

“Let’s trust each other to make the right decisions for our families,” she said. “I think we’re on the way to success.”

Asked whether she herself believes genetically engineered foods could be harmful, she said she preferred to answer as a mother and grandmother rather than as a lawmaker. Determining the safety of such foods requires long-term scientific study, and that’s not yet been accomplished, she said: “I’m very conservative when it comes to this.”

UPDATE @ 2:52 P.M.: Actually, genetically engineered crops have been studied and deemed safe hundreds of times in recent decades. And a review of two dozen long-term studies, published last year in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, found genetically modified crops had no effects on the animals that ate them. And the American Association for the Advancement of Science last year issued a statement saying “foods containing ingredients from genetically modified (GM) crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques.”

The Boxer and DeFazio bills would require clear labels for genetically engineered whole foods and processed foods, including fish and seafood; the FDA would be directed to write new labeling standards consistent with other U.S. and international standards. So far, 64 nations already require labeling of GE foods, including all the member of the European Union, Russia, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.

Boxer acknowledged Thursday her bill would not cover beef or milk from cows that consume genetically modified corn.

Boxer was flanked at the news conference by Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary; Jessica Lundberg of Richvale, Calif., rice producer Lundberg Family Farms; and restauranteur Charles Phan, best known for the Slanted Door in San Francisco.

“This is very exciting for us,” Lundberg said. “Consumers are concerned about the purity of their food, the nutrition of their food, and how their food is grown.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • JAFO

    Babs says, “We deserve to have the right to know what’s in the food we eat.” At the risk of mixing GE apples with organic oranges, the good senator didn’t seem to have any similar reservations when her Dem House colleague, Nancy Pelosi, infamously proclaimed that the House had to pass the Obamare bill “so we can find out what’s in it.”

  • RR senile columnist

    You can’t handle the truth (about your food)! The current ingredients listed on labels confuse most consumers now. Using GE or GM labels is problematic. People will continue to be sickened by foods improperly handled regardless of labels. Future contributors to this blog could benefit from “genetically engineered” brains; it is probably not feasible for the current crop.

  • JohnW


    While I am uncertain about the whole GE or GMO labeling thing, it really isn’t true that people are confused by labels now. I see people in the grocery store picking and choosing based on what they read on the labels all the time. Mainly women. Even I, not the world’s healthiest food eater, look at those labels sometimes.

  • Elwood

    “more than 1.5 million Americans have filed comments with the FDA urging the agency to label GE foods.”

    1.5 million out of 312 million (approximate current US population) is approximately 0.5%

    0.5% of the population believes that the astronauts planted a flag on Mars.

    (See Jackson Lee, Sheila D TX.)

  • RR senile columnist

    Re John W: yeah, a lot of gals check the sugar content

  • JohnW


    No, we’re talking about moms and wives checking not just for sugar but also for sodium (a biggie), saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, calories & calories from fat, etc. They really do pay attention. Those labels are helpful, and it’s hard imagining going back to when they weren’t there. Whether similar info for GE and GMO would be as valuable is beyond my pay grade. I’m too old to care.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    I’ve never seen a woman check the entire label on food. Some will pay extra for organic. I’ve seen men check food for the expiration date. Not women.
    G. E. food is the present & the future. Barbara Boxer is in politics, way past her expiration date.

  • GV Haste

    Barbara, unemployment in your state is 9.4%.

    In the past that would have the depths of a big depression. The real unemployment number U6 is way over 15%… about one in 6 workers.

    If you look at those with a high school diploma or less, that number jumps over 20% of your California residents.

    So Barbara, focus on jobs.. keep that in mind when passing a well enforced immigration reform bill.
    Your current California citizens and legal immigrants are suffering while you chase GM food labels.

    ( U6– definition–
    That includes everyone in the official rate plus “marginally attached workers” — those who are neither working nor looking for work, but say they want a job and have looked for work recently; and people who are employed part-time for economic reasons, meaning they want full-time work but took a part-time schedule instead because that’s all they could find)

  • JohnW


    I dont think there’s much Boxer can do about unemployment, regardless of whether she pursues GMO/GE labeling. Especially not unemployment among people without high school diplomas and at least minimal post-secondary training of some kind. The military used to be a path for people like that. No more.

    U6 versus U3 (official unemployment rate) is an interesting statistic. It’s important to know that the reach of unemployment is beyond the official number. However, U6 is not unique to the Great Recession and is mostly used by people who, for political reasons, wish to make things seem even worse than they are. Fact is, there is always U6, even in times of “full employment.” The relationship between the U3 and U6 lines on a graph is historically fairly constant. If you know the U3 number, you can probably guess the U6 number.

    Another thing politicians like to talk about is the declining labor participation rate, suggesting that the only reason the unemployment rate has been falling is because of discouraged workers getting out of the work force. The Wall Street Journal, no fan of Obama, has thrown cold water on that theory by showing that the biggest factor behind the reduction in the participation rate is baby boomer demographics. Since December 2010, about 8.4 million boomers (300,000 per month) have reached age 65. Not all have dropped out of the labor force, but the lion’s share have. There are far fewer new working-age people than there are boomers dropping out.


  • JohnW

    Sorry, the WSJ link I included above doesn’t work for non-subscribers.

  • JohnW

    You can get to the article I tried to link by Googling: Real Culprit Behind Smaller Workforce.

  • GV Haste

    JohnW, I respect your replies, however I think you are really soft selling this issue.

    “However, U6 is not unique to the Great Recession and is mostly used by people who, for political reasons, wish to make things seem even worse than they are. ”

    I’m not trying to make thing look worse.
    You should try to catch the PBS News Hour tonight, Friday.

    Three segments in order.
    #1, Stunning Increase in Suicide Rate Among Middle-Aged Americans

    #2,Job Search Struggles for Unemployed Older Workers

    #3, Political Analysis by Mark Shields and Mark Gerson, talking about the tragic situation in the two prior featured stories.

    In that last analysis segment, Mark Shields brings out a statistic.
    If the rate of growth we’ve had the past 38 months, continues for the next 16 months, then in September of 2014, we will have the total number of Americans employed FINALLY equal to the number who were working in December of 2007, nearly 7 years ago.

    That is total number employed, 16 months from now, without consideration that the overall population and the population of people willing to work, has grown considerably during those 7 years, despite what you mention about Baby Boomers “retiring”.
    BTW, as Shields says, December, 2007 was hardly a booming economy.

    There are millions of men and women, wanting to work, in almost all areas of labor.
    This recent emphasis on the need to reform immigration so we can bring in hundreds of thousands of workers, is rather bitter for those seeking employment.
    Yet, in California with minimum of 9.4% unemployment, you’d think allowing more new workers in was a high priority.

    As I indicated earlier, 9.4% is deep recession levels, and some now act like everything is almost back to normal. Both Democrats and Republicans.
    What is to become of those who after these dreadful 7 years now need to work until age 70 or longer.
    While the focus in political circles is to bring in eveng greater numbers of new workers.
    (please don’t counter with the agriculture example)
    Less than 5% of all undocumented work in agriculture nationwide. I fully agree that Americans won’t pick crops)

    So anyway, if you please, take a look at those three stories on the News Hour that followed each other.


    U6, or U3, you can’t brush over the fact that there are millions and millons of Americans who would like to be working and that their priority on that is 100 times greater than any concerns about whether their food is GMO. In fact the comparison is laughable for a person who is just concerned about having enough to eat.

  • GV Haste

    JohnW, not like you to distort material.

    Thank you for the link, which I just read after my post above.

    I see the parts you speak about, but that hardly adds up when you read further down in the article. Perhaps you didn’t read the who thing.
    “Put it all together, and the labor force is missing about three million workers who aren’t in school or retired. That is still significant: Add those workers to the unemployment rolls and the jobless rate would jump to 9.3%.”
    In California that would bump unemployment up well over 11% from its 9.4%
    “Indeed, the focus on the labor force can obscure what’s really missing from the economy: jobs. Nearly four years into the recovery, the U.S. still employs close to three million fewer people than when the recession began in December 2007. Nearly 12 million people remain unemployed, two-fifths of them for more than six months. Those people haven’t dropped out of the workforce, but they’re still a long way from finding work.”

    So with California’s unemployment at 9.4% or 11.2% under U3, and God only knows under U6, Barbara Boxer is making sure that if we can afford to buy food, it won’t be GMO.

    Disgusting in my eyes. People need food and to get it they need money, for which they need work.
    The minor points about GM labeling are insignificant by comparison. “Let them eat cake” type thinking.

  • Elwood

    “The minor points about GM labeling are insignificant by comparison. “Let them eat cake” type thinking.”

    Typical Barbara Boxer hare brained thinking.

    Q. When did Barbara Boxer become the stupidest member of the Senate?

    A. When Crazy Uncle Joe was sworn in as Veep.

  • JohnW

    @12 & 13 G.V. Haste,

    Not trying to minimize anything regarding U6. Just adding context.

    Also, didn’t intend to “distort” or cherry pick the WSJ article. And, yes, I read every word. It was the WSJ writer and editors who emphasized the baby boomer retirement impact on participation rate. That was the central point of the story. I also referred to the boomer component as the “biggest factor,” not the only factor. Moreover, I directed you to the entire story, so that you could do your own deep dive.

    As for middle-age suicides. It’s tragic to be sure. We have seen this even in much milder economic downturns. But, as Elwood often likes to say, correlation and cause are not the same. The story also mentions the use of OxyContin and similar meds, the stress of caring for aging parents while still supporting children, and breakdown in the traditional social support structures of marriage and family. And, just to get the gun rights crowd fired up, I’ll point out that firearms in the home is also likely a factor.

  • GV Haste

    @15 JohnW, Yes well, the WSJ would have the inclination to emphasize the angle on the story that leans towards there being a cause that doesn’t stack up with their view.
    However they do include that paragraph that ends with

    “Nearly 12 million people remain unemployed, two-fifths of them for more than six months. Those people haven’t dropped out of the workforce, but they’re still a long way from finding work.”

    But in light of that I believe they are still, like Boxer, all for pushing a immigration reform bill, that not only legalizes most of the 11 million who are here, which will happen and is agreed upon by most, but will also bring in a steady supply of new workers to make sure there is a abundance of workers, so that the rules of supply and demand will always tip to the supply side. Favoring business.

    Boxer and Feinstein, as well as most political leaders in California seem much more concerned about taking care of not only current undocumented individuals, but in taking care of assuring there is a steady and increased flow of competition for existing out of work Americans.
    There is very little in the bill geared towards enforcement at the workplace. That combined with a still pourous border as described by the LA Times, all but ensures that much of the hiring of undocumented workers will continue for many years to come.
    The bill that most of our political leaders support, as presently written, includes minimal expenditures or enforcement for anyone getting 10 miles past the border.
    Everyone who has any knowledge of the problem will tell you the only place to enforce the problem of illegal workers, is at the workplace, be it factories, construction sites, restaurants and offices.

    The bill by comparison spends all its time and resources on the “showcase” of the border.
    As in 1986, no one took care to make workplace enforcement a priority and thus the magnet continued to draw the undocumented.
    Enforcement nationwide in some years has gone as low as a couple dozen businesses being fined. A number you could count on your fingers in a nation of millions of businesses.
    A complete joke.

    This bill, as currently written, does not correct that to the degree that any effective enforcement will take place, except perhaps in large businesses, who often obey even unenforced laws.

    Business doesn’t want enforcement, so you won’t see it in the WSJ and the Democratic party (I’m a member) doesn’t want it because they’re bending over backwards to give the pressure groups everything they want.

    Left out are the millions of currently unemployed and the tens of millions of lower income and lesser educated Americans who will face even more job competition and stagnant wages.
    The very people that the party leaders in California claim to represent.

    They care nothing about these workers if it interferes with their coalition building.
    The group of workers I speak about are truly unrepresented in this matter. They were not at the table when this was drawn up.

    In essence, they are passing a bill that looks good on paper if everyone followed the law. Just like speed laws on the roads. How many violations would there be if there was only 2% of the current enforcement, meaning there were essentially no fines.

    Nothing in this bill rises to the level of enforcement we see in the most basic “metermaid” model.
    Essentially no one will be looking for anyone at the workplace.

    I agree with the laws, but without enforcement all these workers will suffer from the fake enforcement.

    Everyone is winking at the reality. I’d be for legalizing everyone tomorrow if there was a solid enforcement plan for the future.