GMO labeling hearing in NYC

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photoThere has been heated debate over the last few years regarding the labeling of GMOs in food. Several states have passed or have tried to pass laws requiring the labeling of these foods. And New York may be next. A NY State Assembly hearing was held today in New York City to talk about this issue. Selected groups were invited to send representatives to give their take on the issue in order to achieve the goal of soliciting information regarding scientific research and data on the health and safety of GMOs in foods, federal and state policy related to foods containing GMOs, and the potential economic and legal implications of requiring labels on foods containing GMOs. Well, at least that s what the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection claims.

However, ACSH s senior fellow in nutrition Dr. Ruth Kava, who attended the morning session of the hearing, expressed skepticism and comments, The choices of groups who were invited to speak seemed very biased. They included activist groups such as the NRDC, Food and Water Watch, and the Northeast Organic Farming Association, none of which have been known to closely follow the science on genetically engineered foods. Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union stated that there had been dozens of studies suggesting that GMOs are not safe, but the only one he mentioned was one that most scientists think is invalid. In fact, ACSH has commented about that study previously. The only scientist invited was Dr. Val Giddings, independent consultant, and he pointed out errors in several previous testimonies. For example, Dr. Hansen indicated that if genetic engineering resulted in higher than normal levels of an allergen in a food, the FDA would or could not require labeling. But Dr. Giddings stated that that was not true, and that first, the presence of an increased level of an allergen would certainly be looked for, and second, that labeling would certainly be required.

It s important to realize that this was not an open public hearing only those who had been invited were allowed to speak. ACSH was not among those invited, although we did formally request an invitation. However, we will submit written testimony to the Assembly committee within the next week.

This hearing also comes on the heels of a declaration of transparency by big food companies including Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and BASF in their efforts to respond to some of the misleading information being perpetuated by activist groups. As part of this effort, the companies are developing a website,, to answer any questions consumers may have regarding GMOs. Answers to questions will be provided by a range of experts including biotechnology company employees, scientists, nutritionists or farmers.

According to Cathleen Enright, executive director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, We have not done a very good job communicating about GMOs. We want to get into the conversation.

Also stay tuned for the soon-to-be released ACSH publication on agricultural biotechnology and GMO foods.