Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery & Delaware counties, told a gathering in the state capitol Tuesday morning his bill to require labeling of genetically engineered foods was about allowing consumers to make choices, not a statement about food safety.
“People in America demand information,” Leach said. “People don’t like being told, ‘You don’t need to know that; it’s OK.’” (Additional remarks by Leach in video at the end of this piece.)
Leach pointed out his bill is solely about offering information to consumers and allowing them to choose what they buy and eat. He said the bill will not limit producers ability to grow whatever crops they choose, and will not limit the array available in grocery stores.
But the effort to make the state first in the union to require labeling of genetically engineered foods is certain to be expensive and difficult. A similar referendum, known as Proposition 37, was defeated in California in November, although Brian Snyder, executive director, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture pointed out Tuesday it still won 49 percent of the vote.
“I don’t know whether it’ll pass this session,” he said. “(But) like many other issues that are controversial at first, you have to bring them up in order to have a conversation.”
And although supporters of Leach’s bill tout its bipartisan support – the bill garnered an even dozen co-sponsors in the 12 days before it was introduced – the list includes only one Republican, in a state where the GOP-controlled General Assembly has a reputation for favoring Big Business.
Monsanto has become the poster child for genetically engineered crops. The company created a herbicide to kill everything that was not the desired crop. Then it engineered the crops, beginning with soy beans – among the most heavily subsidized of U.S. plant stock – to be immune to the weed killer.
As the biotech giant notes on its website, “Roundup Ready® Soybeans were commercialized in 1996, followed by alfalfa, corn, cotton, spring canola, sugar beets and winter canola, which contain in-plant tolerance to Roundup® agricultural herbicides.”
Unfortunately, say GE opponents, weeds become immune to the herbicide, requiring Monsanto to reformulate the recipe. Then the company must reengineer the seeds to maintain immunity to the new weed killer. The result, say the opponents, is an outbreak of “super weeds,” able to grow with immunity to nearly every weed killer that isn’t the latest version of Roundup, and food crops of questionable safety to consumers.
Hence the move to have food containing genetically engineered components labeled with the information.
Leading the effort to defeat California’s Prop 37 – the first nationally to be vote-tested – was “No on 37,” a coalition of food suppliers claiming the bill was a “Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.” “No on 37”’s notes major funding by Monsanto Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and more than 40 food company members.” The food company members included such names as Bumble Bee Foods, BASF Plant Science, Clorox Company, Coca-Cola North America, and Knouse Foods Cooperative Inc. (For a full list of donors, visit The “No on 37” website.)
Monsanto alone reportedly spent nearly $6 million to defeat the labeling proposal, which it said would increase family grocery bills about $400 a year, increase taxes, and unnecessarily frighten customers into thinking food thus labeled might be unsafe.
The conversation clearly has begun. Labeling proponents in some 20 states have joined the fight for labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Humanly genetically engineered foods have been with us for decades. Mother Nature has been modifying genetics even longer. But until relatively recently, consumers have not made a connection between diseases from which they suffer and the food they eat.
Pennsylvania Senate Bill 653 could at least allow them to identify foods which give them pause, and drive a more open conversation about food safety testing.
© 2013 by John Messeder. Readers may contact john@JohnMesseder.com.