(Albany) - Assemblymember Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) Chair of the Assembly's Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy convened a meeting last week on the status of genetic modification of food. The roundtable discussion was co-sponsored by the Assembly Committees on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and the Legislative Commission on Science and Technology and Task Force on University-Industry Cooperation.
Peoples-Stokes stated, "Genetic engineering of foods raises issues affecting agriculture, consumers, the environment, science, research and business. The businesses promoting this technology claim it can help increase production by farmers which should help farmers' bottom line and possibly lower food costs. On the other hand opponents worry that it might have negative impacts on health and create "super weeds" that could threaten farms in the long-term. Organic farmers worry that it could damage their farms and sales of their food. Consumers have expressed strong interest in labeling of these foods and I can't see a good reason not to provide it," said Peoples-Stokes.
Participants at the meeting included Cornell researchers, New York Organic Farming Association (NOFA), NY Farm Bureau, Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), Council on Biotechnology Information, and Monsanto.
Cornell, Farm Bureau and the biotech industry expressed concerns about restrictions on the use of biotechnology in NY putting us at a competitive disadvantage. Cornell and industry reps believe that it is difficult to identify genetically modified foods or ingredients to label them, but a representative of Consumers Union rejected that argument and pointed to the many countries, including the entire European Union, that require labeling of these foods. He also pointed to surveys showing overwhelming support for labeling in NY and across the country.
New York organic farmers who attended the meeting grow only non-GMO foods, but they want stronger protection from contamination from the many biotech crops being planted. Over 90% of soybeans and 70% of corn grown in the U.S. are now engineered for herbicide-resistance. Although organic foods are a choice for those who want to avoid genetic engineering, these foods are either unavailable or too expensive for many shoppers.
"Over 10 years ago the same Assembly Committees, the Task Force and Commission at this roundtable held hearings around the State to hear from both supporters and concerned citizens about the impact of GMOs. Many of us weren't here in Albany back then, but the concerns about the issues surrounding genetic modification are still current. This year California will hold a referendum to allow voters to weigh in on labeling," added Peoples-Stokes. "We need to re-examine all of the concerns expressed a decade ago some which are still valid, and pay attention to what is new in the world of genetic engineering. I plan to explore how we can properly monitor the safety of this technology for consumers, farmers and the environment and provide information that the people are demanding."