New York State Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs & Protection Holds Hearing on Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal’s Bill to Label GMO-Containing Food Products

New York, NY – Only days after a New York Times poll revealed that the vast majority of Americans support labeling food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) held a news conference prior to a hearing of the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection on her legislation to require labeling of food products containing GMO ingredients in New York State. Assemblymember Rosenthal was joined by health, environmental and food policy experts.

“Consumers have a right to know what they are put into their bodies,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Not only do consumers have a right to know, but as the New York Times poll indicates clearly, they demand to know. The State has an obligation to provide people with information critical to their purchasing decisions, and my bill will do just that.”

Assemblymember Rosenthal’s bill, which was introduced on January 28, 2013, is sponsored by Kenneth LaValle in the New York State Senate. It would require manufacturers and retailers in the state to label certain food products, including processed and raw food and seed and stock that contain GMOs. In June, the bill failed to pass out of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection after a member of the committee and cosponsor of the legislation inexplicably changed his vote from yes to no at the last minute. A lobbyist for the biotechnology industry was in the room when the vote took place.

“The industry has a long history of corporate intimidation when it comes to trying to block efforts to pass GMO labeling laws,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “But we will not be cowed; the consumers demand it, my constituents demand it, and the people of New York State deserve it.”

The hearing explored the use in food of biotechnology, or genetically modified organisms, the effect such use has on consumers and the legal and regulatory framework for requiring statewide labeling of GMO-containing food products.

Among those who presented testimony in favor of Rosenthal’s labeling law, the general consensus was that regardless of the safety of GMO food products, the public has a right to know what they are eating.

According to Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, “Since FDA has to date refused to label GE foods, it is up to individual states such as New York to lead the way and protect its state’s interests, including its public’s health, its public’s right to know, its agricultural economy, its farmers and its native ecosystems.”

“Consumers should be able to make informed decisions about the food they purchase for their families,” said Johanna Dyer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “By labeling GMOs, we can remove some of the mystery behind where our food comes from and shoppers can decide what products are right for them.”

Echoing those concerns, Stacie Orell, Campaign Director for GMO Free NY said, "GMO Free NY takes the stand that we have the right to know if our foods have been genetically engineered. This is not about being liberal or conservative. If you eat food, then this issue affects you. EVERYONE should be able to make informed choices about what they eat."

And Food & Water Watch Assistant Director, Patty Lovera said, “Consumers have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to purchase and feed GE food to their families. That’s why we support Assembly bill 3525 that would let New Yorkers know how their food is produced.”

Some groups, however, did point to the fact that in the absence of evidence to the contrary and with the FDA sitting on the sidelines, caution should be used when considering products containing GMOs.

Michael K. Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Staff Scientist with Consumers Union, the public policy arm of Consumer Reports said, "There is considerable evidence of potential health issues with genetically engineered (GE) foods. Due to safety questions raised by recent studies, including evidence of allergies associated with GE foods, and because consumers have a basic right to know what they are eating, CU supports mandatory labeling of GE foods at the sate and federal levels and therefore also supports A.3525-A.”

“Although there is currently no evidence that eating GE food has caused human ill health, this lack of scientific research (no evidence of harm) is not the same as positive evidence of no harm. Long-term independent studies should be done. At the same time, the use of the herbicide Round-up has risen steadily with the increase of GE crops and there are many studies that show that the main ingredient, glyphosate, causes serious health problems in humans, including birth defects and digestive disorders,” said Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director of NOFA-NY.

Regardless of their safety, according to Laura Haight, NYPIRG’s Senior Environmental Associate, "There are many reasons why consumers may prefer to buy non-genetically engineered foods. Labeling these products will empower New Yorkers to make informed consumer choices about the food they serve their families."

David Byrnes, President and Founder of Good Boy Organics, “I am the parent of three young children, and in the absence of independent research that documents the safety of this new technology, I want to know whether the food I feed them contains genetically modified ingredients. The only way to know is through a label.”

The New York State Farm Bureau, the Food Industry Alliance of NYS and the Grocery Manufacturers Association all testified in opposition to state-wide efforts to label GMO food products.

Twenty two other states have introduced legislation, similar to New York’s, to require labeling of GMO food products. Those states include: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia.

Two states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed GMO labeling laws. Connecticut, the first state to require GMO labeling, made the implementation of its law contingent on four other states with a population exceeding 20 million enacting similar GMO labeling laws. With a population of 19.57 million, New York State’s action or inaction on GMO labeling has national implications.