Two bills have been introduced in the New York Legislature that would make the state the first in the nation to mandate the labeling of genetically modified food.
Sponsored in the Assembly by Democrat Linda Rosenthal and in the Senate by Republican Kenneth LaValle, the bill is the fifth in five years to be introduced in the legislature, and comes amid the growing spread and scrutiny of GMO products.
“Clearly this is an issue that has found resonance with my constituents,” Rosenthal, whose district includes the upper West Side of Manhattan, told the Daily News. “When it comes to what you put into your body, it’s important that, as a consumer, you know as much as possible.”
Companies like Monsanto and DuPont, which develop and sell the seeds for GMO crops, have poured billions of dollars in to defeating voter measures such as California’s Proposition 37 that would mandate labeling.
“We oppose current initiatives to mandate labeling of ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks,” Monsanto says on its website. “Such mandatory labeling could imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts.”
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On Thursday, the U.S. Senate defeated a proposed amendment to the farm bill that explicitly stated that states have the right to require that manufacturers of GMO foods label their products. During the same session, Senate Republicans also quashed an attempt to overturn the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act,” a measure slipped into a government spending bill that circumvents judicial authority concerning the planting and development of genetically modified seeds deemed to be unhealthy for human consumption.
“The momentum has been building in New York as well other states. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut are all looking at requiring labels,” Rosenthal, whose bill now has 41 co-sponsors in the Assembly, said. “A lot of people are keeping an eye on Monsanto and food safety.”
On Thursday, the Connecticut Senate easily passed its own GMO labeling requirement, only to have the bill drastically revised by the House. The measure now returns to the Senate, but its fate is in doubt.
Monsanto, meanwhile, argues that there is no data to support the claims that genetically modified products are harmful to human health.
Tje websote GMO Free NY urges people to put pressure on their representatives so that Assembly Bill A3525 and Senate Bill S3835 will come up for a vote before the current legislative session ends on June 20.
The Food and Drug Administration has deemed GMO foods to be safe and more or less indistinguishable from their non-genetically-modified equivalents.
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“We recognize and appreciate the strong interest that many consumers have in knowing whether a food was produced using genetic engineering,” the FDA said in a statement. “The FDA supports voluntary labeling for food derived from genetic engineering.”
For New York activist Stacie Orell, the campaign director of GMO Free NY, the lack of long-term health studies is troubling.
“Because the jury is still out on human health effects, I’d like to be able to take a cautious approach,” Orell told the News. “Labels would allow me to do that.”
Having graduated this spring from NYU with a master’s degree in environmental conservation education, Orell has helped launch GMO Free’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed to try and convince New Yorkers to put pressure on their legislators to allow Rosenthal’s bill to come up for a vote.
“This issue is not going away,” Orell said. “People are becoming more engaged.”
Rosenthal points to laws requiring the labeling of GMO products that have been passed in countries such as China, Russia, India, Brazil and much of the European Union as a sign that fears about bio-tech foods are warranted.
“Sixty-four countries require GMO labeling,” Rosenthal said. “That says something to me.”
Rosenthal and LaValle have until June 20, when the current legislative session ends, to convince their colleagues to bring the bill to a vote.