Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal to Monsanto at Annual GMO Lobby Day in Albany: GMO Labeling will be Law in New York

February 4, 2014

New York, NY – Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) was joined by advocates, experts and her colleagues in state government at a news conference and rally this afternoon to call upon the New York State Legislature to pass her bill, A.3525-A/S.3835-A, carried by Senator Kenneth P. Lavalle, which would require labeling of certain food products that are genetically engineered (GE).

“Plain and simple, this is a consumer protection measure. Consumers have a fundamental right to know what is in the products that they put on their tables and feed their families,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Requiring that products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are labeled will provide consumers in New York State with a powerful tool to make more informed purchasing decisions.”

"Consumers should be provided the information necessary to make informed decisions when choosing food products for their families," said Senator LaValle, the New York State Senate sponsor.

Across the country, people are clamoring for GMO labeling. According to a recent poll, approximately 93% of all Americans support GMO labeling. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opted to stand on the sidelines of the GMO debate, leaving the states to act in response to the demands of their residents in the absence of federal regulation.

Currently, 22 states and numerous counties across the country are pursuing GMO labeling laws, either via ballot initiative or legislation. Connecticut and Maine each passed laws in 2013 that require GMO labeling, the implementation of which is contingent upon neighboring states’ passage of similar GMO labeling laws. Internationally, 26 countries including Italy, France, China and Saudi Arabia, have either total or partial GMO bans or GMO labeling in place. Significant restrictions on GMOs exist in about 60 other countries as well.

“We stand at an important moment in the debate to label GMOs. Worldwide, consumers have made it clear that want to label GMOs because they demand to know,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “The question we are faced with now is whether we will stand up for those consumers, or whether we will be browbeaten by corporate interests.”

Assemblymember Rosenthal’s bill, introduced in January 2013, came up for a vote in the New York State Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection in the waning days of the Legislative session. Though Rosenthal had the votes to pass the bill out of the committee by a comfortable margin, some members changed their minds only moments before the vote, after a lobbyist for the seed industry communicated with them. Since then, Rosenthal has worked closely with national- and state-level advocates, forming close coalitions and creating momentum. The Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs held a hearing on the bill in July of last year, which drew supporters from around the state and beyond.

In preparation for an upcoming committee vote on the bill, Assemblymember Rosenthal has worked closely with Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection. "As Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection I believe A.3525-A represents an issue that all consumers should be aware of. Whatever your feelings may be on genetically engineered foods, the consumer's right to know is what is at stake here. In this day and age the more information consumers have available to them the better the decisions they are able to make when spending their hard earned money. I applaud my colleagues Assemblymember Rosenthal and Senator LaValle for their work on this important issue."

Emboldened by their success in California and Washington State, where the industry poured millions of dollars into successfully defeating ballot initiatives that would have required GMO labeling, companies like Monsanto and its cronies in the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the trade group representing businesses engaged in consumer packaged goods, have begun a slick marketing campaign to change the public’s perception about GMOs. Washington State's attorney general has filed suit against the GMA for violations of the state's campaign disclosure laws, for illegally collecting and spending $7 million while shielding donors' identities.

According to Connecticut State Representative Tony Hwang, prime sponsor of Connecticut’s GMO labeling law, "This bill encompasses a fundamental right to know what is in our food supply. It is not a political issue. It is not a partisan issue. It is simply the right thing to do on behalf of the residents of New York, Connecticut and the rest of our nation, who want to know what they are feeding their families."

“I am beyond confident that New York's public will not be fooled by the industry's campaign of deceit,” said Assemblymember Rosenthal. “My colleagues and I were elected to represent the people, and I intend to champion this bill in New York State Legislature.”

In addition to her colleagues in government, Assemblymember Rosenthal is collaborating with a growing coalition of advocacy organizations in New York State and nationally. Their passion and expertise is only trumped by their hunger to see New York State join the ranks of Connecticut and Maine.

Alex Beauchamp, the Northeast Region Director at Food & Water Watch, said, "New Yorkers deserve the right to know exactly what they're eating. Just as we can track calorie counts or cholesterol content in our food products, we deserve the right to know if our food has been genetically modified. New York has a long history of leading the way on important health and safety standards, and we can lead the way on labeling of genetically modified foods. Our elected officials should seize this moment and act.”

Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group, the State's largest environmental and consumer advocacy organization, echoed the same, “Consumers have a right to know what's in their food, it's that simple," said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group. "In the absence of federal labeling requirements, it is up to states like New York to step up to the plate and ensure that consumers’ rights are protected."

Other groups and experts support GMO labeling because of the lack of scientific research into the impacts of GE food on the public health.

According to Dr. Michael Hansen, a biologist and ecologist with his Ph.D. in techniques of Integrated Pest Management, with Consumers Union for more than 20 years, "Genetically engineered foods should be labeled to make it possible to track any potential health problems associated with such foods," said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist for Consumers Union, and an expert on GMOs. "Studies have shown that labeling GMOs should not increase the price of the food."

Elizabeth Henderson, an organic farmer and a member of the Board of Directors of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), co-chairs the Policy Committee, and represents the NOFA Interstate Council on the Board of the Agricultural Justice Project. She said, "NOFA-NY members – both farmers and consumers – feel strongly that GE crops create environmental risks – perhaps irreversible, present consumer health concerns that have not fully been researched, and put the integrity of the organic market at risk – jeopardizing organic farmers’ right to farm free of contamination. We join the majority of NY citizens who want to know what we are eating!"

Stacie Orell, the Campaign Director for GMO Free NY agreed, and took it one step further by addressing the opposition, "A GMO labeling law in New York State will not place undue burdens on farmers, food manufacturers, or food retailers and it will not cause grocery bills to skyrocket. GMO labels will not confuse consumers--how insulting that our opposition even suggests such a thing! GMO labels will give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions when buying food for themselves and their families. How can anyone be against that?"

Genetic engineering allows new, more desirable traits to be added to an existing organism by manually adding DNA to that organism. For instance, genetic engineering can be used to make plants more resistant to insects, more apt to thrive with less water or sunlight or with a higher tolerance to herbicides or other elements, just to name a few. A variety of plants are being grown with GMOs, including corn, canola, cotton, wheat, apples and strawberries. It has been estimated that 60 – 70% of all packaged grocery products contain some GMO ingredients.

Bill A.3525-A/S.3835-A will require that certain food products containing GMOs be prominently labeled, providing consumers with important purchasing information.