TRENTON – Senate lawmakers opened the floodgates Monday on the debate over whether foods containing genetically modified materials should be labeled as such.
The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee hosted a discussion only on S1367, a bipartisan proposal aimed at transparency regarding genetically altered food. The hearing drew dozens to testify before Senate lawmakers either for or against the proposal.
Opponents, including the New Jersey Farm Bureau, said they favored labels, but disagreed with making labeling mandatory.
They also called into question claims that genetically engineered ingredients cause health risks.
Proponents said it’s a matter of public health and will, arguing genetically engineered, or GE, foods come with health risks and the labeling of GE products is something consumers want to see.
“Consumers have the right to decide whether or not they want to eat foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients,” said Jim Walsh, regional director of Food & Water Watch, who is part of a coalition of a environmental, labor and farming groups pressuring lawmakers to advance the proposal.
“Right now consumers have no way of knowing,” he said. “This is something consumers are asking for.”
Specifically, the bill mandates that any genetically modified food product offered for sale in New Jersey be labeled to indicate the food contains genetically modified material. A food product is considered to be a “genetically modified food product” if it contains more than 1 percent of genetically modified material, according to the bill.
The bill, which has an Assembly companion bill number, was first introduced more than a year ago.
“I’m going to meet with both groups … to make this a better piece of legislation,” said Sen. Robert Singer, (D-30), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.