A broad coalition of consumer, environmental, labor, student, health, farming, faith and business organizations have announced the launch of a statewide campaign to pass legislation requiring the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods in New Jersey. The coalition presented a letter from more than 30 state advocacy organizations calling on legislative leaders to move a GE labeling bill through the legislature. Related legislation, A3192/S1367, has already been co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of a dozen lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly.
Since their introduction to the market more than a decade ago there has been an explosion of GE foods on the shelves of grocery stores. Inadequate testing of these products by government agencies and a reliance on industry-produced health and safety data has resulted in a growing GE labeling movement among consumers across the nation.
“Over the years, consumers have fought for labeling of calorie counts, saturated fat content and ingredients lists so they can make smarter, healthier choices for their families,” said Jim Walsh, regional director of Food & Water Watch. “But as food production technology evolves, so should our food labeling. Consumers have a right to know which products on market shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients.”
Labeling GE foods is not a novel idea. The European Union specifically addresses the new properties and risks of biotech crops by requiring all food, animal feed and processed products with GE contents to bear labels. The EU is among nearly 50 developed countries that require the GE products they import from the U.S. to be labeled. Furthermore, a 2012 Mellman Group study showed that 91% of U.S. voters favored GE labeling requirements.
“Without the labeling of genetically engineered foods we are all guinea pigs in a giant experiment launched by the biotech industry without our knowledge or consent,” said Julia Lawlor, steering committee member of Slow Food Northern NJ.
“Just as we label food with nutritional facts and allergy warnings, we should label foods that are genetically engineered,” said Amanda Nesheiwat, chair of NJ Sustainable Collegiate Partners. “The environmental and health risks tied to genetically engineered foods are reason enough not to give corporations the power to dictate the decisions that consumers should make on their own.”
“The public has a right to know what is in their food, just like labeling for whether there is high fructose corn syrup, organic materials or preservatives in our food,” said Jeff Tittel, director of NJ Sierra Club. “Many people have concerns about genetically modified foods and others do not – it should be up to them to make that choice. We need hearings on this bill before the Senate and Assembly Health Committees as soon as possible.”
“We strongly urge the legislature to support the bill to label genetically engineered products. Consumers have the right to know the ingredients in the food they purchase,” said Lucia Huebner, vice president of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of NJ. “We are very concerned about issues such as cross contamination of seeds, integrity of agricultural ecosystems, protection of native pollinators and the wellbeing of farmers.”
“With absolutely no authority and no consent of the governed, a handful of human beings have claimed the right to reengineer life, patent their inventions and bully people to accept it without knowledge or consent,” said Sister Miriam MacGillis, director of Genesis Farms. “Members of the Senate and Assembly Health Committees have the responsibility to safeguard our fundamental right to know and choose what we eat.”