Tuesday, September 3, 2013

HB660: Fresh from The GMO Labeling Public Hearing

by Maria Noel Groves, Co-op Wellness Educator & Newsletter Editor

Today I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on one of the public hearings for NH House Bill (HB) 660, which would require the labeling of genetically modified food in our state. This hearing featured a testimony from renowned food safety expert Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union before the state's House Agriculture Subcommittee. He has several decades of experience and is an internationally respected expert on food safety and labeling laws. He has worked on state, national, and international levels on the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food chain. I was in good company among Co-op board member and local farmer Derek Owen, the NOFA-NH Executive Director Janet Wilkinson and Public Policy & Advocacy committee chair Alex Simpson, among others. Here are some highlights from his talk and conversation with the subcommittee members:
  • One of Hansen's key concerns was the supposed safety of GMOs in the food chain. Although GMO foods have been prevalent in our food system for several decades, Hansen stressed that very little rigorous scientific proof of safety is required by the Food and Drug Association (FDA). In fact, the FDA does not require third party testing of GMOs to ensure their safety; the data comes from the companies themselves. The United States does not adhere to global standards for GMOs, safety testing, and labeling.
  • Due to the legal nature of patented products (which GMO seeds are), it's actually very difficult for unbiased third-party safety testing to take place in the United States because permission from the company making the seed is needed. The majority of US scientists testing GMO safety have financial ties to GMOs, and studies with financial ties are four times more likely to have a positive outcome compared to independent studies.
  • Independent studies conducted in other countries are more likely to have negative outcomes. Some of these studies have  found concerns with GMO safety related to allergic and adverse responses. Some have found the possibility of kidney, liver, and bone marrow damage from feeding GMO corn and soy, and the ability of GMO genes to cross horizontally into the human body when consumed.
  • One negative GMO study that has been widely criticized in the media is that of Seralini in Europe, which replicated Monsanto study data feeding GE corn to rats - but over a longer period of time - and found the liver, kidney, and heart damage. Critics say that the sample sizes were too small and that the strain of rats used have a high tendency to develop cancern. An interesting point made by Hansen is that the study mimiced Monsanto's own study's sample size and rat strain (yet Monsanto's shorter-term study is considered proof of safety), and a 3-million-euro study is underway in Europe using a similar set up. So, why is this set up ok to prove safety but inadequate to prove a lack of safety?
  • Even less safety data examines the effects of the herbicides alongside the GMOs. The vast majority of GMO crops in the US (approximately 85%) are genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant with the intention of using increased herbicide use (such as Monsanto's glyphosate Roundup). This makes weeding and harvesting a more easily mechanized process for farmers. Herbicide exposure - through consumption and environmental effects - has been shown to be problematic for human and environmental health. You can learn more about this in the "What's So Bad About GMOs?" article Shane and I wrote for the most recent Co-op newsletter here.
  • Hansen and the subcommittee also discussed concerns less related to the potential health effects of GMOs.... 
  • Is the bill's proposed law was constitutional? Hansen maintained that it is indeed constitutional and uses similar language as other state GMO labeling bills and global agreements.
  • Will labeling GMOs would cost farmers or consumers more money? It's unlikely. Norway, for example, found no major change in price increases related to labeling. "The notion that it's going to cost a lot of money is nonsense," he says. He also points out that NH farmers will be minimally effected because we don't tend to farm the crops most likely to be GMO (wheat, soy, cotton, canola). In fact, labeling may begin to open up better availability of non-GMO seeds for farmers. Because the few companies that control the seed industry are also the companies behind GMO technology, the best seed traits often come in a GMO seed package, regardless of whether or not the desired trait (ie: disease resistance) is GMO.
  •  Non-GMO products are in great demand globally as well. At least 62 countries and more than half the world's population currently require labeling of GMO foods, said Hansen. He cited examples where the drift of GMO pollen resulted in unintended GMO rice and wheat crop contamination for farmers who hadn't planted them and cost the farmers their ability to trade their products on the global market. Quite frankly, Hansen said, the US is vulnerable because we have no controls in place nor third party GMO safety data for our country's food crops. "States with labeled products have a market advantage," he said, both nationally and globally.
  • Why are we looking to state-level legislation rather than federal? "If you want labeling on the national level, the way you're going to get it is by pushing it here," he stressed. Efforts to affect change on a national level (via legislation and the FDA) have fallen on mostly deaf ears. But as more states pass GMO labeling laws, it will act as a trigger for the federal government, and states that pass such legislation will be seen as leaders of progress and interest in consumer safety. One of the subcommittee members said that in a recent conversation with Congresswoman Annie Kuster (who is the first NH legislator to sit on the federal Agriculture Committee in 70 years!), that Kuster agreed with the importance of state-level change affecting the nation.

Do YOU Want to See GMO Foods Labeled? Get Involved! 

Attend the screening of Genetic Roulette this Monday, September 9, at 7 pm, which is part of the Green Concord Green Living Series at Red River Theatres and is sponsored by the Concord Food Co-op. We look forward to the panel discussion with four important local experts:
Click here for more details, to see the trailer, and to buy tickets (just $7!) online.
Let your local legislators know what you think! Find your legislators and their contact info here.

To stay abreast of the NH GMO labeling happenings, check out www.nhrighttoknowgmo.com and stay tuned to the Co-op's newsletter, Facebook page, and email list.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't found any good things to say about GMO products in the food chain. Animals/ human ingestion.