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GMO bill in NYS legislature is a big deal for the whole region

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Sponsors of a bill now in committee in both the New York State Senate and Assembly that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs) say they hope they have better luck this year advancing the legislation, which died in committee late last session.

If the bill becomes law in New York, it would bring the entire Northeast closer to changing how it labels genetically modified foods. Similar laws have recently passed legislatures in Connecticut and Maine, but both laws are contingent upon several contiguous states also approving the legislation, so that food manufacturers would only have to alter their labels for one large Northeastern market.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

The bill would require that all genetically engineered food sold in New York be clearly labeled. Assembly Sponsor Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat, is the bill's sponsor in the assembly (Republican Ken LaValle is its sponsor in the GOP-led senate.) Rosenthal says the measure would give consumers the choice of whether or not they want to buy genetically modified foods. She calls the bill a "consumer protection effort", and says New Yorkers have the right to know what's in the food they buy and eat.

Rosenthal says she's heard disturbing reports about GMOs, but that she's viewing this bill as a right-to-know issue.

The bill has not yet made it out of committee in either house. It was voted down in the Assembly's Consumer Protection Committee in the waning days of last year's session. Rosenthal says she thought she had the votes for passage, but at the last minute some on the committee changed their minds. She blames big agricultural companies like Monsanto, and their lobbyists, who she says are "spending millions upon millions of dollars trying to prevent passage of labeling laws around the country."

Rick Zimmerman says Monsanto is getting a bad rap. He's with the Northeast Agriculture and Feed Alliance, which represents larger farms, seed distributors and other parts of the agricultural industry. Zimmerman says the organic food industry, which includes some large conglomerates, is also spending millions of dollars to help see the labeling bills passed in the Northeast. "The organic food industry is funding a lot of this initiative to disparage commercial agriculture…It's all about increasing market share, purely and simply".

Zimmerman says the bill's supporters are trying to simplify the issue into a consumer rights matter, but he says it's far more complex than that.

"It's a complicated truth versus a simple lie," said Zimmerman, who says it's not simply a right-to-know issue. "This is a right to confuse and a right to scare consumers…It's a right to disparage mainstream agriculture."

He says no major studies have proven that GMOs are harmful. He says the pesticide most commonly used, the Monsanto-made Round Up, is far less dangerous than the pesticides of prior decades, and the residue largely evaporates before the crops are harvested.

Zimmerman says there is a way to use existing labels to avoid genetically engineered food: buy organic.

Assemblywoman Rosenthal is trying to win more support for her measure this year and already has 46 co-sponsors from both major political parties. She says she's looking forward to passing the bill.

The Assembly Consumer Protection Committee could hold a vote on the bill by the end of the month.

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