Senators Boxer and Sanders fill Agriculture Bill with anti-GMO nonsense

Anastasoa Bodnar alerted me on Twitter to the following amendment to the Farm Bill which would have authorized states to require the labeling of genetically modified foods. As I’ve said before, I’m not opposed to providing consumers with accurate information about what they’re eating (emphases on accurate). But I am saddened to see this amount of scientific misinformation reach the US Senate, including references to bogus and/or irrelevant studies and a evident lack of understanding of the technology and its value. It didn’t pass, but here’s the text:

SA 2256. Mr. SANDERS (for himself and Mrs. BOXER) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 3240, to reauthorize agricultural programs through 2017, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

On page 1009, after line 11, add the following:


(a) Short Title.–This section may be cited as the “Consumers Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food Act”.

(b) Findings.–Congress finds that–

(1) surveys of the American public consistently show that 90 percent or more of the people of the United States want genetically engineered or modified foods to be labeled as such;

(2) a landmark public health study in Canada found that–

(A) 93 percent of pregnant women had detectable toxins from genetically engineered or modified foods in their blood; and

(B) 80 percent of the babies of those women had detectable toxins in their umbilical cords;

First of all, several people have pointed out that the methods used in this study are not reliable. But even if they were, there is no evidence that the the natural bacterial insecticide in question has any negative effects on people. This is just alarmist nonsense being passed off as justification for legislation. 

(3) the tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States clearly reserves powers in the system of Federalism to the States or to the people; and

(4) States have the authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering or derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered.

(c) Definitions.–In this section:


(A) IN GENERAL.–The term “genetic engineering” means a process that alters an organism at the molecular or cellular level by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes.

Here’s some other things that alter an organism at the molecular and cellular level by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes: fertilization, weeding, ploughing, mechanical irrigation…

(B) INCLUSIONS.–The term “genetic engineering” includes–

(i) recombinant DNA and RNA techniques;

(ii) cell fusion;

(iii) microencapsulation;

(iv) macroencapsulation;

No idea what this has to do with GMOs. 

(v) gene deletion and doubling;

(vi) introduction of a foreign gene; and

(vii) changing the position of genes.

(C) EXCLUSIONS.–The term “genetic engineering” does not include any modification to an organism that consists exclusively of–

(i) breeding;

(ii) conjugation;

(iii) fermentation;

(iv) hybridization;

(v) in vitro fertilization; or

(vi) tissue culture.

Because that’s possible under natural conditions….

(2) GENETICALLY ENGINEERED AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED INGREDIENT.–The term “genetically engineered and genetically modified ingredient” means any ingredient in any food, beverage, or other edible product that–

(A) is, or is derived from, an organism that is produced through the intentional use of genetic engineering; or

(B) is, or is derived from, the progeny of intended sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction, or both of 1 or more organisms described in subparagraph (A).

(d) Right to Know.–Notwithstanding any other Federal law (including regulations), a State may require that any food, beverage, or other edible product offered for sale in that State have a label on the container or package of the food, beverage, or other edible product, indicating that the food, beverage, or other edible product contains a genetically engineered or genetically modified ingredient.

(e) Regulations.–Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Commissioner of Food and Drugs and the Secretary of Agriculture shall promulgate such regulations as are necessary to carry out this section.

(f) Report.–Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Commissioner of Food and Drugs, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, shall submit a report to Congress detailing the percentage of food and beverages sold in the United States that contain genetically engineered or genetically modified ingredients.


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  1. Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I was discussing GMOs with some friends on facebook. The best arguments against GMOs that I’ve come across have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the patent laws and their ethical implications. The best arguments for GMOs are how they can help people in regions where food is already scarce, waters polluted, and little help available. I feel like we are so caught up in our first world ideal of quaint family farms producing small batches of carefully tended crops that we lose sight of the fact that this will never be a scalable norm, it will never produce food that is affordable fresh and readily available to the huge number of people who need that food. It is a luxury to be able to pay a higher price for a meaningless label like “non-gmo” or “organic”. It’s like demanding that only Gucci clothing be allowed and ignoring the ethics and impact of how those Gucci products are produced.

    I think it’s important to continually assess our patent laws and regulations (be they GMO, medical patents or anything else). There must be a balance between making new research profitable and ensuring that those most in need aren’t hurt and made worse in the process.

    But just as pharmaceutical companies can be guilty of corruption and still produce a product that saves lives, so too can agricultural companies be corrupt yet produce a product that safely feeds the hungry while reducing the impact on the environment. I would rather take aim at real issues and address those than simply ban or demonize something for unscientific reasons.

    I guess all this is to say that I appreciate your posts on this topic.

  2. John
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    You people are truly off on this one. Two things. Gmo corn uses many time the amount of glyphosate due to the amount of times it can be sprayed. This is a known, proven carcinogen, period. last I checked, this is still The United States and we still have a “choice” of what to eat and not eat. If you are comfortable with eating gmos, go for it. if you don’t believe the many years of research coming out INDEPENDENT labs, go for it. But give me the choice to eat it or not. That is what it is all about. Enough of this back and forth bs. We deserve the choice to eat it or not. End of story. Another note, I am a farmer and have seen many friends destroyed by the use of this product due it’s inability to adapt to various weather conditions. I have seen it first hand. Let’s stop the scientific Monsanto backed crap and just give us the CHOICE…

    Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink
  4. Anonymous Scientist
    Posted June 17, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks, John, for your insight. I would say that Micheal Eisen’s and the Monsanto trolls’ opinions are just their own, and don’t represent ALL scientists.

  5. Ewan R
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    “This is a known, proven carcinogen, period.”

    Except that it isn’t. At all.

  6. sophie
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Eisen,

    You state quite often that you do not receive any direct financial gain from the agri-busines sector or from companies like Novartis, Monsanto, Syngenta, etc. However, your university does, as does your department. (

    For someone who calls themselves a scientist and who constantly expresses their concern with science your agruments are often very similar to that of a Monsanto spokesperson. “We need to feed the world!” – one of Monsanto’s favourite slogans. The fact is, in America, where GMOs have been cultivated and commercialized the longest, 35 million people are still food insecure.

    In regards to safety and health issues, as far as I know you have never been an advisor to any government on GMO food safety issues. Or have you?

    Have you done any long term animal studies on GMO consumption? Have you seen the tests done by the industry on safety and health issues when they apply for GMO authorization? If you haven’t been invited to give your scientific advise and opinion, then you don’t know what you’re talking about. Those tests aren’t even allowed to be shown to the public, so you wouldn’t even be able to access them, not because the government doesn’t allow it, but because the companies don’t want the public to see these studies. You repeatedly state that GMOs are safe, having never seen any of these company studies. Because you haven’t, your argument is not based on all the available information.

    You are right, let’s make this a scientific debate. Let’s have the companies publish their work on health issues instead of hiding behind their right to industry secrets. Nothing in these health studies will disclose their invention, but it will reveal blood tests that are poorly done or not done, studies that are too short, sample sizes that are laughable, not studying every organ of the animals and and a lack of thoroughness that has nothing to do with science. These studies are not peer reviewed, nor are independent scientific bodies invited to redo the studies and verify their conclusions. On top of that, companies sometimes bring in important dossiers a few days before the end of the examination period, not giving scientists enough time to even read everything.

    But even though the studies are sloppy, they have shown adverse effects. These should be studied. The studies sould be redone, properly and by independent scientists. The government should demand it. But they have not.

    The fact is lobbyists hound us and politicians constantly, pushing to get their products on the market, downplaying the significance of the need to health studies (these people aren’t even scientists themselves) and to overlook these worrisome tests.

    So before trivialize people’s concerns with GMOs, know what you are talking about. Do a long term health study on GMO consumption. Ask the companies to show you their studies. Redo those studies to see what results you get.

    When a farmer signs a license with Monsanto for GMO seeds, on the back it’s stated that the farmer can not give his seed to any third party, for any reason, including research. It’s there in black and white. I don’t know about you, but that seems unscientific to me.

    I agree with you on one thing, let’s make this GMO agrument about science. So until scientists have actually done health studies, had them peer reviewed by independent scientists who are not funded directly or indirectly by these companies, then we will have a true scientific debate on GMOs.

  7. David Nicholl
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    So under this statute almost all cheese would be labelled as GMO. I bet people would be surprised. “(A) is, or is derived from, an organism that is produced through the intentional use of genetic engineering” Chymosin is an enzyme that causes milk to curdle. It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of cheese produced in the US and Great Britain is made with chymosin produced by genetically modified microorganisms. Chymosin is also used in other European countries.

  8. Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Mr Eisen said: “Anastasoa Bodnar alerted me on Twitter to the following amendment to the Farm Bill which would have authorized states to REQUIRE the labeling of genetically modified foods.”

    It appears someone may not have carefully read the Sanders Amendment regarding labeling. It says:
    “Right to Know.–Notwithstanding any other Federal law (including regulations), a State MAY REQUIRE that any food, beverage, or other edible product offered for sale in that State have a label on the container or package of the food, beverage, or other edible product, indicating that the food, beverage, or other edible product contains a genetically engineered or genetically modified ingredient.”

    Numerous online posts by Anastasoa Bodnar indicate she is anti labeling. Either Mr Eisen misquoted Anastasoa Bodnar or Anastasoa Bodnar misstated the facts of SA 2256 to mislead her twitter followers.

    I think there is a clear difference between “REQUIRE” and “MAY REQUIRE”. You can draw your own conclusions by watching Berry Sanders advocate for his amendment by watching his Senate speech here:

    The Sanders amendment was drafted in response to Monsanto’s threats to sue the State of Vermont that intended to pass a genetically engineered food labeling law supported by the majority of citizens in Vermont.

    Visit for documentaries, articles and interviews with independent scientist discussing issues with Genetically Engineered food.

    • Roel Zylstra
      Posted April 10, 2014 at 1:31 am | Permalink

      @Dale, “would have authorized states to REQUIRE” is approximately equivalent to “a State MAY REQUIRE”.

  9. Josephine Hill
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I have a BS from College of Chemistry UC Berkeley CA and a MS in Chemistry from UW Seattle WA. I had worked for Shell Development, Emeryville in Technical Files Dept., in Dr. Melvin Calvin’s ( Nobel Laureate) lab at UC Berkeley, for Dr. Grundy at UCSD on Cholesterol research in the Dept. of Medicine; and most recently as an Assistant Chemist (Analyst) in water Dept. of City of San Diego, CA . I had learned from the academic schools and institutions to think analytically and critically of all research data with utmost integrity and honesty. I noticed that many of the researchers at these institutions today may be experts in the techniques of their field to produce genetic engineered products, but are not involved in testing the physiological effects on living species and yet they assure us that their products are safe for living species consumption. They leave these tests to Corporations’ ” in house” labs who sell the products. Because there seems to be some conflict of interest involved here I am in favor of honest labeling of GMO food products so that potential harmful effects can be honestly traced, and not muddied by lack of transparency in labeling.

  10. Posted August 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the mention, Michael.

    Hi Dale. I’ll just ignore your inability to spell my name. I’d like you to show me exactly where I’ve said I’m anti labeling. I’m definitely confused as to the value of GMO labeling but I’ve never said I’m against it, provided a good reason can be discussed. I’m simply interested in people knowing what the text of legislation actually is and what it would mean for all consumers. Knowledge is power and all of that good stuff.

  11. Ewan R
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Anastasia – the misspelling is actually from Michaels first post, has been bugging me for a while now, but not so much that I could actually be bothered to say anything.

    Which I think rather says something negative about me as here I am, correcting you for correcting someone for… anyway, don’t shoot the messenger.

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    […] Senators Boxer and Sanders fill Agriculture Bill with anti-GMO …Jun 13, 2012 … Mr. SANDERS (for himself and Mrs. BOXER) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 3240, to reauthorize … […]