Last week was a first for me.
Even though I have attended a countless number of meetings, seminars and conference calls for the labeling of genetically-engineered (GE) food, and have been involved with many marches, rallies, and fundraisers across the country, I had yet to attend an official GE-labeling political hearing — until the one held a few days ago in New York City.
And let me tell you, it was an eye-opener.
Ever since the narrow loss of last year’s Proposition 37, California’s GE-labeling ballot initiative, the momentum in the U.S. for the labeling of GE-food has never been stronger.
GE-labeling legislation is in various stages in 25 different states. Connecticut and Maine have passed GE-labeling bills, albeit with major provisional clauses, and the state of Washington will be voting on its own bill later this year.
Now, New York is starting to address this matter, thanks largely to a phenomenal group of concerned citizens who established the Coalition for GE-Labeling in New York.
Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, an AMAZING advocate for our cause, has sponsored a GE-labeling bill in New York State, A3525A, and hearings were held last Monday in The Bronx to discuss this very important issue.
HIGHLIGHTS / POINTS OF INTEREST
- In chronological order, the following individuals testified in front of numerous members of the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee and each had five minutes to speak, not including Q&A at the end.
* Michael Hansen, PhD, Senior Scientist, Consumers Union (For GE-labeling)
* Jeff Williams, Manager of Government Relations, New York Farm Bureau (Against GE-labeling)
* Eric Ooms, Vice President/Dairy Farmer, New York Farm Bureau (Against GE-labeling)
* Beth Chittenden, Dutch Hollow Farm, New York Farm Bureau/New York Corn and Soybean Association (Against GE-labeling)
* Louis Finkel, Executive Vice President, Government Affairs, Grocery Manufacturers Association (Against GE-labeling)
* Michael Rosen, Senior Vice President, Food Industry Alliance of New York State (Against GE-labeling)
* Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of The Center for Food Safety (For GE-labeling)
* Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food & Water Watch (For GE-labeling)
* Stacie Orell, GMO Free NY (For GE-labeling)
* L. Val Giddings, PhD, President, PrometheusAB, Inc. (Against GE-labeling)
- There was a very good turnout among committee members, and they seemed genuinely interested and concerned about the issue.
- Even though the hearing was in a remote location in The Bronx, the room was absolutely packed with GE-labeling advocates. I am not sure there was one single person there in support of the opposition, excluding their lobbyists, lawyers, or the individuals they put in front of the committee.
- The pro-GE-labeling crowd was boisterous and loud, to say the least. Numerous times, the committee chairman had to stop and scold the crowd.
(I’m sorry, we just couldn’t tolerate the nonsense that the opposition was spewing.)
- Overall, there was too much discussion about the safety of GMOs.
While I firmly believe that GMOs represent major, major health risks, the safety part of this discussion gets us away from the core part of the argument, the one that cannot be defended.
GE-labeling is a matter of disclosure. As Americans, we have a fundamental right to know what is in our food. Period. And that is being denied to us.
The opposition applies for and receives patents from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because their GM-corn, for example, is unique and different. Yet, they’ll tell the USDA, FDA, and American consumers that their GM-corn is the exact same thing as non-GMO corn.
The only way you get a patent on something is if what you have is unique and different. So, if an ingredient is unique and different, it MUST be disclosed on a food’s packaging. Otherwise, let’s get rid of the patents.
As usual, this whole GE-labeling issue comes down to one thing: money.
The ag-biotech industry, which uses the excuses “GE-labels will confuse consumers” and “GE-labels will increase food costs”, knows that if the American consumer saw the words “Made with Genetically-Engineered Ingredients” on the packaging, the sales of these products would plummet and people would be running to organic.
The chairman of the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee, Jeffrey Dinowitz, supports the bill and has said that he will bring it for a vote when the State Assembly reconvenes in early 2014.
The real question isn’t whether it passes the State Assembly vote but rather if it can get through the state Senate.
A well-informed insider told me, “there is no way it will get through the Senate” because all of those politicians are so influenced by industry.
I left the hearings with a few key takeaways.
- The industry lobbyist (Louis Finkel – you’ll see him in the black suit with white shirt sitting at the table, in the video above) that spoke in front of the committee was super-sharp, knew the script cold, and relentlessly attacked holes in the bill.
While I didn’t agree with a word he said, I could tell right away that this person, who represents a very powerful and incredibly well-funded opposition, was no joke. I was extremely impressed, and it was crystal clear that these guys are absolute pros at working the system.
- Our side better bring its absolute “A” Game, or we are going to lose. Just like many Californians did in Proposition 37, the people of New York have to really start digging in and make this bill a priority.
And As Andrew Kimbrell told me in the video above, national GE-labeling will only happen if it first happens on the state level.
- My involvement in this bill will be ramping up severely…..stay tuned for what I am working on. In the meantime, if you know any college students in New York state who want to get involved, please have them contact me.
(Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal addressing the media prior to the hearings.)
(With David Byrnes, Founder of Good Boy Organics)
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