Our opinion: Too much to ask for?


The Live Free or Die state has become one of a number of states that is considering a GMO foods labeling bill.

Later this week a House committee will take up a subcommittee's recommendation to forward House Bill 660 to the New Hampshire House of Representatives for consideration.

Rep. Maureen Mann, D-Deerfield, the bill's sponsor, told the Union Leader the bill's premise is simple: People have a right to know what's in their food. She cited a growing number of New Hampshire residents who have health, religious or environmental reasons to avoid genetically modified foods.

"If I want to keep kosher, I want to know if there's a pig gene in my strawberry," she said. "The number of reasons different people have concerns is enormous, so that's why I filed the legislation."

The New Hampshire legislation uses the term "genetically engineered" and not "genetically modified organism," and defines it as a process in which the genetics of a food for human consumption has been "materially altered," either through in-vitro techniques or by methods of fusing cells "that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombinant barriers."

The New Hampshire Grocers Association opposes the bill on the grounds it will cause food prices to escalate.

John Dumais, the association's president and CEO, told the Union Leader it's the federal government's job to decide whether modified foods should be labeled.

"Our position as an association is that we certainly believe in transparency, in letting the consumer know, only if it's done uniformly, and that means nationwide," he told the Union Leader. "If you do it any other way, you're going to harm some states."

Dumais also said labeling food as genetically engineered is "a negative factor."

"It's saying, ‘This has something in it,' and most of the consumers don't understand what that means and are concerned about it."

Mr. Dumais, are you saying we're all just too stupid to figure it out for ourselves?

Vermont is also considering a GMO labeling rule. Earlier this year it passed through the House and the Senate is expected to take it up in the 2014 session.

Connecticut, the first state to pass such a law, has postponed enactment until four other states, including a neighboring one, pass similar laws, according to the Union Leader. The proposed New Hampshire law wouldn't go into effect until at least four other northeastern states adopt similar legislation by Jan. 1, 2018.

But even if legislation in New Hampshire and Vermont makes it to the Governor's desk for signing, it has potential deep-pocket opponents waiting on the sidelines.

In California last year, a statewide initiative failed to muster a majority after the biotech industry spent $46 million on an advertising blitz. A similar battle is going on right now in Washington state, which is voting on GM labeling today. Opponents such as Monsanto and Novartis have been pouring millions of dollars into that state to sway public opinion.

The biotech and agribusiness industries have indicated they might bypass all of that and go straight to Congress and request a law that would pre-empt a state's ability to pass their own GM labeling provisions.

They might have to figure out an endrun around public sentiment, because recent polls indicate 93 percent of Americans want to know what's in their food. And Sixty-four countries currently require GMO labeling, and that includes the entire European Union and China.

"More than half the world's consumers already have the right to know and to make choices for themselves and their families," Scott Faber, the executive director of Just Label It, told the McClatchy News Service. "All we're asking for is the right to make those same choices for ourselves and our families."

While many of those opposed to the legislation point to the fact that most of our food has been genetically modified since humanity developed agriculture, we shouldn't have to point out there is a huge difference between hybridization or long-term selection of crops for optimum yield and splicing together or inserting genes from different species.

And how about Monsanto genetically modifying crops to be resistant to its pesticide Roundup, a proven hormone disrupter? Even more worrying, while the producers of GM foods say it's being done to provide nourishment to our ever-increasing population, it gives agribusiness control over our food supply because the seeds are patented.

Anyone familiar with the tactics of big business must seriously question whether multi-national corporations really have prioritized the health and welfare of the world's population over their bottom lines.

Call us suckers if we fall for that propaganda.

The truth is many Americans would continue to consume food even if its labeled as a GMO, but we only want the right to know -- just as we do with the ingredients list on each and every food package in the market -- what's in our food.

Instead of spending millions of dollars fighting legislation being proposed by states, perhaps these agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies should be working on a uniform labeling bill that could be passed on the federal level. And some of that money could be spent on explaining why they believe GMOs are good for you, your family and the world. Then let us make our own decisions. For some reason, that just seems too much to ask for.


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