Pennsylvania Lawmakers to Consider GMO Labeling

3/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

A proposed bill makes Pennsylvania the latest state to consider requiring labels of foods produced from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

And not surprisingly, two of the states biggest farm groups are opposed.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Wayne, introduced the bill Tuesday during a press conference at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

Leach, who in the past has introduced controversial bills supporting the legalization of marijuana in the state as well as same sex marriage, said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer that he wants consumers to be better informed about how foods are produced.

The Center for Food Safety estimates that up to 85 percent of corn, 91 percent of soybeans and 95 percent of sugar beets are genetically modified.

“I am concerned about the lack of information available about the presence of genetically engineered food, and I believe it is every consumer’s right to know what ingredients are found in the products they buy,” Leach told the Inquirer.

The bill has 12 co-sponsors in the 50-member state Senate and would require all foods sold in the state to carry the labeling information.

It would take effect 18 months after passage.

GMO labeling has become a hot issue as of late. Lancaster Farming got dozens of responses on the subject on its Facebook page, with some people in support of the bill and others vehemently against it.

Voters in California rejected a referendum in November that would have required labeling of GMO products, but similar proposals have been introduced in the legislatures of other states such as New Jersey and Minnesota.

Vermont’s House Agriculture Committee recently approved a GMO labeling bill. But the state’s governor, Peter Shumlin, has expressed doubt about whether the bill would reach his desk, telling the Associated Press last week that the state may not want to be the first to test a GMO labeling law since it lost a federal court appeal a few years ago over a law requiring labeling of dairy products from cows treated with rBST (Recombinant bovine somatotropin).

Whole Foods Market Inc. announced March 8 that it would require labels for its products carrying genetically modified ingredients by 2018.

Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said in a written statement that science has proved that food grown from GMOs are safe and that labeling could potentially mislead people into believing food grown from GMOs is unhealthy.

“Farmers have grown crops from biotech seeds since 1995, and there has not been a single instance of harm to human health. Food from biotech seeds has been commercially available since 1995 and has been proven safe for human and animal consumption,” O’Neill said, adding that Farm Bureau supports voluntary food labeling, so long as it comes from the company producing the product.

Chris Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries, said any law requiring GMO labeling would put food manufacturers in Pennsylvania at a competitive disadvantage and could force some companies to move out of state.

He said GMO labeling overshadows a much larger issue of how the world will produce enough food for a growing population.

“The reality is that at the turn of the century there will be 9 billion people in this world. We need to be able to feed them and use technology to do that,” Herr said. “It’s very easy for the elitists to get caught up in the idea of where their food comes from and what they want to know about it. But the reality is that more people are going to have to be fed. Let’s put it in perspective and produce safe food using the technology that we have.”

Leach was joined at the press conference by what was described as a coalition of consumer, environmental, labor, farming, faith and business organizations.

Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, or PASA, said the bill is about consumer education and transparency.

“Consumers today are better educated and more savvy about issues related to food. They want to know where it comes from, how it is produced, and what’s been added to it along the way to their dinner tables,” Snyder said. “Farmers are also benefiting from such transparency in the food system. They want labels to reflect the truth about food.”

Organic farmer Roman Stoltzfoos of Spring Wood Farm in Kinzers, Pa., said he thinks GMOs threaten organic and sustainable farming operations.

“Genetically engineered food is a major threat to the family farm. Organic and sustainable farming methods can feed the world and will make it a healthier place to live and work. I want GE foods off my farms and out of my food, and this legislation will help accomplish that,” Stoltzfoos said.

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