by Mark Kinnucan and Laura Haight
So we can make informed decisions, consumers deserve to know what is in the food we purchase and whether it was produced with genetically modified organisms.
A bill being considered in the State Legislature would require food produced with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled. Since 1996, crops have been genetically engineered to produce their own pesticide or survive repeated sprayings with toxic weed killers without our knowledge. For example, bacteria DNA coding for the insecticidal toxin Bt has been inserted into the DNA of corn to make it lethal to pests. Other varieties of corn have been engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.
The legislation is a commonsense measure sponsored by Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assembymember Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) that would provide basic information on food products, allowing consumers to make informed choices about what they eat. We should have the right to know what we are eating as well as to choose the agricultural practices we want to support through our grocery purchases.
Long Island's representatives in Albany have the opportunity to stand for consumers' rights and environmental protection by helping to pass this bill. We particularly urge Assembly members Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), Edward Hennessey (D-Brookhaven), Tom McKevitt (R-East Meadow) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), who are on the Assembly's Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection, to support the legislation. Their committee must pass the bill to bring it closer to consideration by the Assembly. A Senate version has yet to be taken up.
As expected, corporations are lobbying elected officials. Labels already provide consumers with information about what is in our food and how it is produced, from calories and ingredients that trigger food allergies to country of origin and whether food is made from concentrate. So why keep us in the dark about whether our food is genetically modified?
Could it be because corporations know there is substantial resistance to GMOs? A 2013 poll found that 93 percent of Americans were in favor of labeling foods that had been genetically modified.
Labeling genetically modified food is about choice. There are myriad reasons people may choose not to eat genetically modified foods. They include concerns about land use, health issues and corporate ownership of the seed supply. Another concern is loss of biodiversity through the cross-contamination of GMO crops with organic and conventional crops and wild species.
Despite industry claims, there is no scientific basis or consensus that GMO foods are safe to eat or even substantially equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts. In fact, multiple studies have found damage to vital organs and increased incidences of cancer and fertility issues in animals fed GMO foods compared with those fed GMO-free diets.
As environmentalists, we are aware of concerns that residents have about the impact of pesticides on our drinking water, health and the environment. We are particularly worried about the increased use of glyphosate -- linked to cancer, premature births and miscarriages -- resulting from the greater adoption of GMO crops.
Special interests must not be allowed to defeat the legislation. We ask our state legislators to pass the GMO food-labeling bill.
Mark Kinnucan is chair of the Chapter’s Long Island Group; Laura Haight, a member of the Hudson-Mohawk Group, is the senior environmental associate at NYPIRG. This article first appeared as an op-ed in Newsday.
Editor's Note: Since this op-ed was published, the bill to label foods containing or made with GMOs (A.3525) has made dramatic movement in the state Assembly, passing through both the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee and the Codes Committee in the Assembly. Although the bill did not make it to the Assembly or Senate floors for a full vote this legislative session, it looks promising for next year. Due to heavy lobbying from the biotech and food manufacturing industries, political pressure and civic engagement is needed to pass this bill, so your help is essential. To get involved, contact Erin Riddle, chair of the Atlantic Chapter Farm & Food Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-372-5503.