These insects are key pollinators of many plants and crops in both Mexico and the United States, and their diminished population could have a ripple effect on interconnected habitats and species across North America.
GMO crops themselves also directly threaten our country’s natural ecology outside of farmer’s fields. Once planted, the genetically-modified plants cannot be entirely contained, and commonly spread into the wild or into non-GMO crop fields. A professor at the University of Arkansas recently found that genetically modified canola had spread “nearly everywhere” across the State of North Dakota.
This widespread cultivation of GMO crops and attendant increase of harsh chemicals into multiple ecosystems is an experiment that is unprecedented in the history of agriculture. The full and long-term consequences to our environment and our health are yet to be seen.
It is important to bear in mind that “GMO” is not a single chemical or ingredient, and that just as there are an infinite number of possible DNA sequences, there are an infinite number of potential GMOs that could be developed and introduced over time, each with unique characteristics and effects. One GMO is not necessarily like another and each should be evaluated separately in terms of its safety and environmental impact before going to market. Unfortunately, there is no standardized testing or approval process for GMO products in the United States. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not and has never systematically tested or approved GMO products. Since the 1990s the FDA has operated under an official presumption that all GMOs, unilaterally, are “substantially equivalent” to their naturally occurring counterparts.
As a result of this lack of oversight on an issue as fundamental as the safety of our food, The American Medical Association voted in 2012 in favor of “mandatory premarket systematic safety assessments of bioengineered foods.”
For all of these reasons, and due to a lack of Federal engagement on this issue, we decided to take action in Connecticut. Our legislation does not ban the consumption, sale or cultivation of genetically modified organisms. It simply requires that they be labeled, so consumers can make informed decisions about the products they support and choose to serve on the family table.
To be specific, our law requires labeling of food intended for human consumption that is entirely or partially genetically-engineered. Entirely or partially genetically-engineered seed or seed stock that is intended to produce food for human consumption must also be labeled.
The labels themselves must bear the words “Produced with Genetic Engineering” and be printed in the same size and font as the ingredients on the product’s nutritional facts panel. Packaged foods must be labeled on the package. Wholesale foods must be labeled on the bill of sale, and raw agricultural commodities must also be labeled on the retail store shelf or bin.
We have allowed a few exceptions to our labeling requirements. Food prepared and intended for immediate consumption in a restaurant or similar location need not be labeled. Food products sold at a farmer’s market, roadside stand, or pick-your-own farm are also exempt.
We have also opted to hold food producers, rather than retailers, accountable for meeting the labeling requirements. Retailers may not be penalized for failure to label a GMO product unless the retailer produced the product and sold it under a brand it owns, or the retailer’s failure to label was knowing and willful.
New York is uniquely poised to help provide important information to our families about the food we eat. I urge you to support GMO labeling legislation for the benefit of our environment, our constituents, and the public health of New York, Connecticut, and our country. Thank you.