Coalition pushes for bills that would mandate labeling of genetically engineered food

TRENTON – A coalition of environmental, labor and farming groups called this week for action on two bills aimed at transparency regarding genetically altered food.

A3192/S1367, introduced last year, have not moved in committees yet.  The bills basically would mandate disclosure and labeling of foods containing genetically modified material.

The coalition presented a letter Thursday from more than 30 organizations calling on the legislative leaders to act on the bills.

According to the coalition, inadequate testing , plus a reliance on industry-produced data, is spurring a movement nationally for labeling genetically altered foods.

“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,” Jim Walsh, regional director of Food & Water Watch, said in a release.

“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.”

However, opponents of the coalition dispute the coalition’s safety concerns and warn that if the bills pass, consumers will see  higher prices.

“There are no safety or health benefits to labeling bio-engineered food,” Linda Doherty, president of the New Jersey Food Council, said in a release.

“Just last summer the American Medical Association said there is no justification for special labeling of bio-engineered foods.  And the United States Food and Drug Administration maintains there is no difference in safety between bio-engineered foods and those produced by conventional means.”

The Council, which represents supermarkets, convenience stores, and grocers, said that if a labeling law is passed it will lead to higher costs.

The bills have bipartisan sponsorship, including Democrats Linda Stender and Tim Eustace and Republicans David Wolfe and BettyLou DeCroce in the Assembly, and in the Senate, Republicans Robert Singer and Gerald Cardinale and Democrats Joseph Vitale and Ray Lesniak.

The diversity of sponsors is a telling point, according to Walsh.

“It speaks to the broad public support for this,” he said, adding that this is something whose time has come, and he pointed out that there were times when foods did not contain calorie information or expiration dates. “Consumers want choices.”

Yet the Council maintains the move is unnecessary.

Opponents argue that labeling bio-engineered foods as safe as foods produced through traditional methods misleads consumers by falsely implying differences where none exist, according to the Council.

Walsh said the coalition, which includes such groups as CWA Local 1081, the Sierra Club, and Genesis Farms, is going to concentrate efforts over the next few weeks to get the bills posted.

A letter prepared by the coalition, this one addressed to Vitale, is attached. 

Coalition pushes for bills that would mandate labeling of genetically engineered food