GM labeling debate returns to new york with even more at stake

In the wake of Connecticut’s passing of a GM food labeling law, pro-labeling activists are ratcheting up pressure for similar legislation in New York State.

Connecticut’s labeling law, which requires labels bearing the words “produced with genetic engineering” on all foods partially or wholly genetically modified, will not take effect until four additional Northeast states pass similar legislation. More specifically, one of the four states must border Connecticut, and they must combine for a population exceeding 20 million people, explained Caroline Coatney, a contributor for Biology Fortified, Inc., in June.

This stipulation was included to address labeling cost concerns in a state as small as Connecticut.

Because of this, New York’s proposed GM labeling initiative is receiving increased pressure from a small group of pro-labeling Connecticut lawmakers, and a group of New York legislators are responding.

On July 30, the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection held a public hearing in New York City to discuss a new bill, A.3525-A, to establish labeling of genetically engineered food in the state.

“If New York were to pass this legislation, we would be well on our way to meeting the requirement so that Connecticut and other states in the Northeast will have labeling when it comes to genetically modified foods,” said Connecticut Senate President Donald E. Williams, Jr.

According to a recent poll, as reported by the New York Times, there is overwhelming support — 93 percent, to be exact— for labeling genetically engineered foods in the United States.

“I am confident that after a comprehensive public airing, where both sides have an opportunity to provide testimony, the case for labeling of GMO-containing food products will be categorically made,” said Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal (D-Manhattan). As the primary sponsor of the bill, Rosenthal convened the hearing.

Some New Yorkers, however, are skeptical about the benefits of such legislation, as well as the tactics of the labeling campaign.

More recently, after attending the hearing, Bernie Mooney—author of The Progressive Contrarian blog—did not hesitate to call the Assembly’s public hearing a “farce,” accusing Rosenthal of acting like a “self-righteous bully” and anti-GM activist, rather than an elected representative calling a hearing to obtain concrete facts.

What was particularly alarming to Mooney was the fact that Rosenthal chairs the Assembly’s Commission on Science and Technology, but “spouted all the anti-GMO nonsense, which included citing discredited studies.”

“While grilling three upstate farmers [Rosenthal] went bullygirl actually disagreeing with the farmers about their experiences with GMOs. She read otherwise, she claimed, dismissing their actual experience. One of the farmers, Beth Chittenden of Dutch Hollow Farm seemed to get the bulk of her bullying,” Mooney wrote.

Mooney, in defense of the farmers, wrote, “These weren’t industry bigwigs, they were upstate family farmers trying to explain why they used GMOs; their own experiences.

According to Mooney, the “show trial” also saw testimony from Val Giddings, a biotechnology consultant and President & CEO of PrometheusAb, Inc. Giddings was the lone scientist invited to speak, and spent his allotted testimony time listing off false claims from pro-labeling witnesses.

The lacking invitations to the scientific community was discussed on Twitter. For example, this post from Trevor Butterworth, a contributor for Newsweek, said:

“@Butterworthy: Have I got this right – GMO labeling hearings in NYC mostly invited activists who touted discredited science? …”

This is the first time that a GM labeling bill has gained momentum in New York, following in the footsteps of similar movements building in states like California, Washington, and Hawaii; however, versions of the bill have been introduced unsuccessfully in Albany yearly for over a decade. Bill A.3525-A, for the first time, has made it to the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee. Rosenthal promises to bring the bill to vote when the Assembly reconvenes in 2014, but will likely lack the support of many farmers and scientists whose voices were left out of the discussion.

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