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December 02, 2016
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We say, ‘label it’

Big Biotech argues that GMO food is safe and that consumers just don’t understand the benefits. Indeed, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has said that “the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.” But for other scientists, the jury’s still out. Relatively speaking, this is still a new technology. (The first genetically engineered food plant, a tomato, was approved for market by the FDA in 1994.) One group of researchers, who challenged the AAAS’s statement, even raised concern about increased use of chemicals in agriculture. (Among the most widely disbursed GMO crops are some specifically engineered for the plants to withstand repeated application of chemical herbicides.) We agree with those scientists who have called for more long-term research on GMOs’ impact on human and animal health and on the environment.

Meantime, unlike the U.S., much of the rest of the world already is taking a more cautious approach to widespread adoption of this technology. Farmers in India, Hungary and Haiti have destroyed GMO crops. Japan has just cancelled an order of U.S. wheat after GMOs were mysteriously found in an Oregon farmer’s fields. (The strain was never approved for use outside of testing.) In France, citizens have sabotaged GMO testing in a vineyard, and the European Union generally has taken a more cautious approach. We, too, see caution as being prudent.

Interestingly, the U.S. food industry is starting to get the public’s message; Whole Foods Market, for example, is seeking more products without genetically engineered ingredients and last month said that it would start to require suppliers to label products with GMO ingredients. Other retailers who want non-GMO products for their customers are turning to a new non-profit organization that certifies “products made according to best practices for GMO avoidance.”(www.nongmoproject.org/product-verification)

If retailers are getting the consumer’s message, why aren’t the polls? We recommend that if you want GMO food labeled in New York State, you need to ask your assembly member to bring the defeated bill back for reconsideration, and then contact members of the Assembly’s Committee on Consumer Protection and Affairs and give them a piece of your mind.