Fight over GMO labeling heats up

Photo by Isabel Guerriera
Photo by Isabel Guerriera

The Capitol’s Million Dollar Staircase was abuzz on Tuesday, March 8 as a coalition of politicians, lobbyists and advocates called for labeling of genetically modified foods.

Close to 100 people rallied on the majestic staircase to fight for a bill (A.617-b/S.485-b) that would require companies to label their products containing genetically modified organisms.

All walks of life could be found on the grand staircase that day; a toddler waved a sign as her mother shouted for their right to know what was in their food. At the same time a small dog, covered in promotional stickers, barked in unison with the cries of campaigners.

A poll taken by Consumer Reports and The New York Times indicated that more than 90 percent of consumers support labeling GMOs. The bill being pushed this session would ensure transparency between the producer and the consumer. This transparency would allow for more information, more choice and more control for the public.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, sponsor of the bill, expressed this as a simple way to ensure the public’s right to know.

“As this bill has picked up speed, and sponsors and has gained media attention, the lobbyists have intensified their work to block us,” Rosenthal said. “What we want is very, very simple. It is something that people in all the states in the U.S. want. It is something people living in the EU already enjoy. Sixty-four countries around the world enjoy the right that we are fighting for. And that is simply the right to know what is in our food. Is that so difficult?”

Countries such as Japan, Korea, China, India and Russia already label genetically engineered foods. American companies Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Kraft also observe these laws, and Campbell’s Soup recently announced they would voluntarily label their genetically modified food products.

Assembly Health Committee Chair, Richard Gottfried, spoke out against large companies such as Monsanto and DuPont that use money to support oppositional legislation. The DARK Act —  and acronym for Deny Americans Right to Know — is a bill being pushed in some states to resist GMO labeling efforts in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.

“Big agribusinesses like Monsanto claim they support free markets, but they’re fighting tooth and nail to prevent consumers from learning if the products they eat are genetically engineered. Many GMO products have serious environmental consequences, including being engineered specifically so they can accommodate the use of highly toxic pesticides,” Gottfried said.

The possible health effects of genetically engineered foods are of the most alarming repercussions of not labeling such products, say those who support GMO labeling. Farmers from all across New York joined the rally in Albany to bring this point home.

Elizabeth Henderson, the co-chair of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, the oldest organic farming group in the state, has been opposing the use of GMOs since they hit the food chain. Independent farmers and other groups such as Goodboy Organics are increasingly concerned with the chemicals being poured on crops.

One of the most troubling chemicals sprayed on millions of acres of crops is glyphosate, a main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. First introduced in the 1970’s glyphosate was found to work as an endocrine disruptor as well as a likely carcinogen.

“To change the food system, to get rid of all of these toxic materials, we need all of your help and labeling GMOs is a really important step in that direction,” Henderson said.

This bi-partisan bill is in the Codes Committee in the Assembly and has been recommitted to Consumer Protection in the Senate, where it is sponsored by Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson.