Maureen Mann: Labeling genetically-modified foods would help New Hampshire consumers
The people of New Hampshire want to know what is in their food. A professional poll conducted in October found that 90 percent of New Hampshire residents — Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike — support labeling for Genetically Modified Organisms.
Consumers have the right to know because the process of genetic engineering is unique and genetically engineered (GE) seeds are so different from conventional that they are patented. Because of these patents, it is difficult for independent scientists in the U.S. to obtain GE seeds for testing.
GE seeds were first approved in a closed-door meeting at the White House in 1992 when representatives of the FDA and bioengineering companies such as Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical decided that GE foods were "substantially equivalent" to conventional foods. Had there been open hearings, objective scientific evidence of the claims of these products would have been required. As it is, the FDA does no independent testing; it relies on data submitted by the developers.
Unlike techniques used in traditional breeding, GE involves the alteration of the plant's DNA through a process which could not occur in nature. In other words, crossing one variety of a tomato with another variety is not GE. Inserting a flounder gene into that tomato is GE.
The claim that GE seeds require less herbicide/pesticide use is misleading. Evidence shows that after continuous use, more is required. We are now seeing increases in the use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) on herbicide-tolerant GE crops. Farmers are seeing the emergence of super weeds and resistant worms. There is concern that bees, butterflies and non-targeted insects are being harmed. There is also increasing evidence that these more expensive seeds have not shown increased yields.
The 2009 Agriculture at the Crossroads study by multiple international organizations determined that GE crops create as many problems as they solve. American farmers have lost sales in Europe and Asia where labeling is required because of contamination of their crops by GE seed.
The claim that GE products are proven safe is also misleading. While the American Medical Association had not initially called for labeling, at the group's 2012 meeting it called for mandatory pre-assessment. The American Association of Environmental Medicine has called for immediate long-range safety testing and labeling.
Close to 300 American, European and Asian members of ENSSER have signed on to an October 2013 document stating: As scientists, physicians, academics and experts from disciplines relevant to the scientific, legal, social and safety assessment aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a "scientific consensus" on GMO safety. Included among the signers is Dr. Belinda Martineau who helped create the first GE tomato.
The amended version of HB 660 will not force producers to create special labeling for New Hampshire. A trigger allows the bill to go into effect only when four additional Northeast states pass similar legislation. Connecticut and Maine have already passed such legislation, as has the Vermont House. More than 20 other states currently have labeling bills under consideration. Sixty-four countries around the world already require labeling. American companies from Hersey to Con Agra already label GE products for world distribution.
The bill does not prevent New Hampshrie farmers from planting and selling GE crops, nor will products containing GE ingredients be banned. They will simply be labeled. The Farmers' Union and NOFA NH support the bill, as do many members of the Farm Bureau, including some county chairs. The N.H. Grange has endorsed labeling on the national level.
Common-sense exemptions in the amended bill include restaurants and animal feed. Donations to food pantries and shelters are protected.
The Department of Health and Human Services, the agency which will enforce House Bill 660, estimated the cost of enforcement at $128,000, not at half a million dollars, as has been claimed.
Multiple studies have shown that labeling will bring no increase in cost to the consumer. New Hampshire business owners stated during testimony that labels are changed on a regular basis for advertising purposes; the speaker for the New Hampshire Grocers Association agreed.
The Washington state attorney general is currently overseeing a case against the American Grocers Association for funneling anti-labeling money from undisclosed sources in violation of Washington state law.
And yes, for many people price is critical. That is why consumers who cannot afford the more expensive organic products want labeling. They, too, want to make informed decisions about their food. As John Dumais of the New Hampshire Grocers Association said in his column opposing GE labeling, "It is about choice." On this point we agree.
Rep. Maureen Mann is a Democrat from Deerfield and sponsor of HB 660, which would require labeling of genetically modified foods.