New bill would require labeling of all GMOs
They are in a great deal of the foods people consume, and a majority of citizens of the United States are in favor of this being public information. They are called genetically modified organisms, and there is a bill in New Hampshire being proposed that will, if passed, require such food items to be labeled as a GMO product. According to N.H. State Representative Maureen Mann, 90 percent of Americans want foods made with these organisms to be identified.
“People are becoming more and more aware of what’s happening in their foods. Now, 70 to 80 percent of our foods are genetically engineered,” Bonnie Wright, advocate for the N.H. Right to Know GMO group, said.
Mann insisted that the bill is strictly just for labeling, not banning. There are exceptions with this bill, however. Medicines, alcohol and restaurant dishes will not be labeled, according to Mann. Other exceptions are still being contemplated.
Wright explained that any GMO’s which animals consume would not be labeled either. This means an animal that either produces for the food industry or becomes the food itself could ingest a genetically modified diet. Unknowingly, a person may consume GMO’s indirectly.
Mann said crowds have attended public hearings about the issue in Concord, N.H. “They come week after week because they’re concerned about what’s in their food, they’re concerned about their right to know what’s in their food,” she said.
Both Wright and Mann said this bill will affect anyone who pays attention to labels. “Some people look to see how many calories it [food item] is, and some people don’t care. How much trans fat? How much sugar? Some people are very careful about reading those labels, others don’t care at all,” Wright said.
Elizabeth King, a KSC junior who studies environmental science, said she is concerned about what she eats and said, “People should know exactly what they’re eating and what’s in their food.”
Mann explained that consumers read labels not only for health reasons, but for personal or religious matters, for example Kosher products and vegan foods. Mann pointed out that juices are labeled as either concentrate or fresh, similar to how packages will warn customers that nuts were used in the same factory as the food in the package. Both Mann and Wright do not believe GMO labels should be treated any differently.
According to Wright, the bill was introduced in January. Now, weekly there are meetings where expert witnesses come in to give advice and testify.
After these hearings and plenty more meetings, the House of Representatives will cast their vote on the bill in January 2014.
She said a bill similar to the current bill has been in N.H. Legislation since 2001. “This is the furthest any of them have gotten along in the process, probably because the demand is here now which it wasn’t in the past,” Wright said.
Not only is the state of N.H. looking at a proposed GMO bill, but 26 other states are as well, including Washington, according to Wright. She said California had come close in passing its own GMO bill, but the pro-label bill side raised $6 million to educate the public whereas the opposition raised $46 million.
“A lot of your major food companies put in a lot of money to stop that bill from passing,” Wright said as she named off franchises such as Pepsi and Kelloggs.
Though the bill was defeated by a narrow margin, Wright said it allowed the rest of the country to see what was happening in the food industry.
When asked how N.H. Right to Know gets their money to spread word of the bill, Wright said, “We’re self funded. We go to a library and show a movie and hope that people can make a donation. We’re totally non-funded.”
The group rallied in August and sent letters to representatives and the committee working on the bill. N.H. Right to Know held discussion panels and put on movie showings of films such as Genetic Roulette, and informational video about GMO’s and the industry. At most of the events, Wright said people were curious about how they could help ensure the bill is passed.
Gary Hirshberg of the company Stonyfield Farm has spoken for the Just Label It campaign in favor of labeling GMO’s and more farmers will be sharing their thoughts on GMO’s in the following weeks.
According to Mann, a new study showed there was no cost increase for labeling. Hirshberg had stated the average company changes its labels often, including Stonyfield Farm. The company has changed their labels 20 times over the course of 16 years.
Mann pointed out that each time a consumer sees the word “new” on a product, the label itself can only last for six months. Mann questioned those opposed to the bill and said, “People should ask themselves: What is the reason not to allow people to have transparent information about what’s in their food?”
In certain cases, some states are relying on other states to pass their GMO labeling bill in order to enforce theirs.
For example, both Connecticut and Maine have passed their GMO labeling bill but can not enact the bill until another state that touches their borders passes their proposed bill as well. In other words, the Northeast must come together in a unified decision to pass the bill in order for it to work.
Wright explained that companies such as Campbells Soup will not want to sell to N.H. if they have to create different labels just for the state, and this concerns her. “The trigger clause, although I don’t like it, makes sense,” Wright said.
Still, she is hopeful. “I hope it will happen in New Hampshire now, I’m doing everything I can humanly do to make that happen and there are a lot of us that are doing the same,” Wright said.
“Just like we have a right to know the carbohydrates content, the caloric content, we should have the right to know the genetically modified content,” Mann said.
Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org