ALBANY -- A measure with strong sponsors in the state Legislature would require that foods containing genetically engineered material be labeled that way to alert consumers.
“More and more people read labels and care about what they are putting in their mouths and their bodies, so I thought this bill that is simply a labeling bill would be a no-brainer,” said Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).
Apparently it isn’t.
LaValle and his co-sponsor on the bill, Assemb. Linda B. Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), said they are facing opposition from major food manufacturers including the Monsanto Co., General Mills and Kraft Foods. The bill’s sponsors also say some elements of the farm lobby and grocery store chains also oppose the measure, which Rosenthal said was unexpectedly defeated last year in the Assembly late in the session.
There was no immediate comment from the companies. Food companies have argued there is little evidence to prove that genetically engineered foods aren’t as safe as food grown without the manipulation. But consumer fears are driving a national effort to at least label such food products.
The bill states as much as 70 percent of groceries contain some genetically modified ingredients. Several states are proposing labeling bills and disclosure of genetically engineered foods is required in Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Russia, and the European Union, according to the bill.
Rosenthal said she and LaValle are fighting “the industry’s campaign of deceit.”
“We stand at an important moment in the debate to label GMOs.,” she said. “Worldwide, consumers have made it clear that want to label GMOs because they demand to know."
LaValle, who had once proposed a ban on genetically engineered material in foods, said he’s optimistic.
“In my years in the Legislature, I have learned that every bill will have it’s own time,” LaValle said. “And we are very close for this bill to have its own time.”
He also cited the impact of growing support of several groups lobbying for the measure. They include Consumers Union, the New York Public Interest Research Group, the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and the Organic Farming Association. The groups are sending fliers this week to residents in the district represented by Assemb. Edward Hennessey (D-Medford). He sits on the consumer affairs committee and is considered a key vote for the issue.
Hennessey didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they eat,” said Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union. “We hope that when Assembly member Hennessey’s constituents see what’s at stake, they will convince him to choose consumers over big corporations that want consumers to remain in the dark.”
The amount of a fine is yet to be determined. Companies would have two years to comply with the law if it’s passed.
The bill would require labeling of food or food products that contain a genetically engineered material or that are produced with a genetically engineered material, according to the legislation. The bill would also impose penalties for false labels and misbranding.
The process engineers foods such as corn, wheat, canola, apples and strawberries through genes to add or create new character traits within a plant. The bill states the engineered genes are introduced into the cells of plants through viruses, antibiotic resistant genes and bacteria.