The conversation about GMOs

Most of my colleagues in the legislature have endorsed a pending bill that would require labeling of foods produced from genetically modified farm crops. A group of legislators held a public forum on GMO labeling in Watertown last night.

I’ve been a skeptic of the bill. The choice we are being asked to make as legislators is whether to create a new food labeling system in Massachusetts that would apply to products most of which are made elsewhere in the United States. The threshold question we have to ask is: Can we successfully force that on the rest of the country?

The answer to that threshold question is probably no. It is the role of our national government to regulate products in interstate commerce. That idea is enshrined in our constitution and the legality of Vermont’s GM labeling law is being challenged in the courts.  It is also a common sense idea — we have a national economy and the practical ability of states to make rules controlling production activities in other states is limited.

In the case of food labeling, we’ve had federal leadership for over 100 years. Wherever you go in the United States, you will find products bearing the familiar nutrition facts labels and ingredient lists. If you prefer to buy organic, you can have confidence that foods labelled “organic” meet the same federal standards everywhere you go.

Federal leadership is especially necessary in GM food labeling. Over the past couple of decades, the production cost advantages of GM crops have led to the near universal use (in the United States) of GM seeds in the commercial farming of certain major staples — corn, soy, canola and sugar beets (not wheat or peanuts). These crops are heavily used in processed foods. So, in order to enforce a requirement that GM content be disclosed, we would have to be able to inspect foods at multiple stages of production in other states. Without the power to inspect, we could expect non-compliance at every stage.

Also, consumers will end up confused if different states adopt different labeling rules. One of the good points made in the forum was that a state could adopt many different rules around GMOs.  Questions that states might answer differently include:

  • If a GM crop product contains no DNA or protein is it still subject to labeling — for example, pressed oils contain only fats — should they be labelled?
  • If animals are fed with GM food or GM drugs, is their meat and milk subject to labeling?
  • If non-GM crops are processed in facilities that also process GM crops, are they subject to labeling?
  • Must products prove that they have not been contaminated in the field by neighboring GM seeds in order to avoid a labeling mandate?
  • Do all GM products merit labeling or just those that facilitate increased chemical use?

Attempting to mandate GM labeling from the state level will only undercut the credibility of food labeling generally.

The federal Food and Drug Administration does review new GM products, but typically does not require clinical trials of GM foods.  The FDA accepts the argument of GM manufacturers that technological genetic modifications — allowing crops to tolerate the application of weed-killers or making the crops less attractive to pests — are important but minor, involving only a single protein usually. If this protein is known to be safe, the product is presumed to be safe.  The chances of introducing harmful plant content are actually much greater when wild strains of plant are bred into seeds using traditional cross-breeding, because we are actually changing many more features of the plant. Yet, we do not require clinical trials after traditional cross-breading — corn is still corn.

Should we trust the federal regulatory approach?  While I do not feel that the state has the practical power to enforce labeling, I understand the concerns that many people have about GM crops.  As was argued in the forum, these concerns go beyond the fact of genetic modification, to other issues — use of chemicals, loss of biodiversity, and corporate agriculture — associated with, but not necessarily caused by GM crops.

People seeking to avoid GM products do have options.  First, products that are USDA certified as organic have minimal GM content.  Second, more and more foods bear voluntary non-GMO labeling that is verified by third-party certification organizations. This is the model that people who seek to buy kosher foods use and it has worked well for decades.  Finally, and there are many other good reasons to do this,  people can avoid eating processed foods.  In the US market, most fresh foods are non-GMO.

I look forward to continuing to listen and learn on this issue and as always your welcome feedback.

Presentation Materials for the October 20 Forum:

  1. James Tillotson Presentation
  2. Note: Sheldon Krimsky presented without slides.
  3. Elizabeth Vierling Presentation
  4. Sean Cash Presentation

Additional Resources/Opinions

  1. Watertown Tab Coverage of the forum.
  2. White House review of biotechnology regulation.
  3. MA Right to Know GMOs — lead anti-GMO advocates in MA
  4. Use of GM products — corn and soy — in animal feed
  5. Panelist Sheldon Krimsky — GMO Deception
  6. Panelist Elizabeth Vierling — Complexity of GMO Labelling
  7. Editorial – The Boston Globe
  8. Editorial — Boston Herald
  9. Pew Research on scientist vs public opinion on GMOs

GMO Forum unnamed

 

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

81 replies on “The conversation about GMOs”

  1. Senator, as you know, years ago, probably after being known as a country with most obese in the world, we decided to do something about it. So, we fought hard against opponents, which I am sure included many manufacturers, to have a label on our food commodities to at least know how much fat we were taking. Let’s learn from the past.
    We deserve to choose what we are eating, specially with something so new to us as a consumer. I would rather to be the one to choose than either government agencies or manufactures.

    We need to know! we want to know! Please vote for the bill.
    Thank you!

      1. Will – I completely agree, this is a federal issue.

        This type of departure from national norms not only raises our cost of living, but also blocks providers from our market and may hurt MA providers in other markets (or at the very least raise their costs in those markets). We learned this in the auto-insurance market in a big way.

        While I support labeling for GMO and our rights to know what we are eating, this is best implemented at the federal level. In fact, I believe it will ultimately will be addressed there and if we presuppose to create our own standards, will will then be in the position of forcing MA suppliers to retool to the “new” federal standards.

        Please vote No.

        thanks
        -rich

      2. I cannot imagine that Congress is going to require GMO labeling in the foreseeable future, can you, Will?

        Even if it did, what would it tell us in the absence of medical evidence (and there is some, but it is mostly ignored) of dosage-specific toxicity or goodness, and a labeling system that figures that in (like MDRs for other food components)?

        You know, many prepared foods signify that they contain “natural flavors.” Some of them are not particularly natural. We hardly know what they are or what eating them means for health.

        The problem of “industrial agriculture” is that corporations believe that what makes the most profits is good for consumers, and hide their formulations a trade secrets. That doesn’t make their products good for us.

        I really want to know what is in food I am eating and how all those ingredients were created. But I do not expect I will ever know under the current corporate system, which includes Federal rule-making agencies.

        So saying it’s a federal problem doesn’t help at all, not under global capitalism. And Andrei Radulescu-Banu’s idea of an open database to inform food purchases is equally a chimera under these conditions. To be able to enter GMO information in one, a food manufacturer would have to get it from distributors, who would have to ask suppliers, who would have to ask producers (farmers) to supply stats on GMOs, and do that for every ingredient they use that could be GMO. That’s what it would take, and it’s really not practical.

        So what to do? I say make lots of noise in every way we can about not knowing enough about what we are eating. Make it a state issue, and use the Commonwealth’s authority to force the issue onto the national stage. Who else has that kind of leverage? I admire Vermont for trying, lawsuits be damned.

        1. I think we can lead on things like equality of marriage, but I just don’t think state labeling in the food production chain is practical. Granted, our expectations of federal leadership are low, but that is what it is.

    1. PS – Read Chipotle’s statement on why they don’t use GMOs, which was cited by the plaintiffs (using a redirected URL) in their Vermont lawsuit deposition: https://chipotle.com/gmo

      How is it that Chipotle can know what ingredients it uses contain GMOs but the rest of us don’t have a clue? Why don’t consumers have access to such information?

  2. The element that nobody talks about on this issue — perhaps because nobody can think of anything useful to say — is that the cost of genetic engineering, measured both in terms of dollars and the effort to acquire the expertise necessary to accomplish any given end, is growing, and will be growing, asympotically close to zero. Plus of course climate change is going to impose all kinds of new constraints on what we can grow where, and genetic engineering is going to be needed to deal with those constraints.

    1. Fred, do you perhaps mean that genetic engineering is growing exponentially? Growing asymptotically sounds like growth is slowing and approaching a limit.

  3. I think the whole GMO thing is mostly silly, anyway. It’s often championed by those who want a chemical-free life — I hope they don’t drink any water, since that’s a chemical.

    Science is not an evil thing.

    I would much, *much* rather that thought and energy be spent on other aspects of agriculture. For instance, animal welfare is given much less importance than GMO; I want the animals to live in humane conditions, and frankly I don’t care a bit as to whether the food they eat has some spliced genes.

    1. If you like to have animals to live in human conditions you should have a look at long-term studies of pigs eating GMO corn and soy. “Pigs fed a GMO diet exhibited heavier uteri and a higher rate of severe stomach inflammation than pigs fed a comparable non-GMO diet. Given the widespread use of GMO feed for livestock as well as humans this is a cause for concern. The results indicate that it would be prudent for GM crops that are destined for human food and animal feed, including stacked GM crops, to undergo long-term animal feeding studies preferably before commercial planting, particularly for toxicological and reproductive effects. Humans have a similar gastrointestinal tract to pigs, and these GM crops are widely consumed by people, particularly in the USA, so it would be be prudent to determine if the findings of this study are applicable to humans.” http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf. Furthmore there are no long-term studies and independent ones that proof that GMO is safe. Another thought over 64 countries ore opting out of growing GMO.

        1. Thank you, Todd. I am more likely to trust these studies than studies done by the industry with an incentive to market their products as fast as possible. To my knowledge, there are no long-term independent studies on the effect of GMO. I don’t have a scientific background, but if you like to tell me that GMOs has no impact on animals or humans when it’s mechanism to kill bugs is to perforate their stomach – that’s crazy. Monsanto is very busy with character assassination. If their products are so great and will save the world why do they need to protect themselves legally so much? They should be proud to put GMO on every product containing their product. And assuming that consumers would be so confused about the labeling is kind of insulting.

          1. Although people love to paint Monsanto as a boogeyman (and I’m not saying they’re squeaky clean), my understanding is that the litigation that has occurred has only been against those farmers who really have tried to steal seed, not those who have accidentally found GMO plants in their crops.

            As far as killing bugs, I’m not well-versed enough in the science to directly address that. I do, however, know that some of the plants are modified to produce a protein that is harmful to insects, but not to mammals. It’s kind of like how some animals can eat plants without any harm that would poison us.

            Don’t forget that many farmers are actually in favor of GM crops because they have much better yield than non-modified varieties. The issues are far more nuanced than the general public tends to believe.

            1. Todd, I am sorry, but Monsanto put themselves in this corner. As the world leader in GMO they have to take the heat and also the responsibility to make sure their products have no adverse health effect and the pesticides used along with GMOs are safe. As far as I know GMOs don’t have to be tested to be safe as the FDA looks at the GMO corn the same way as it looks at a natural corn. It’s a question about the process which isn’t covered by the FDA. So, I am really concerned about GMOs and health effects. There are NO independent long-term studies that GMOs are safe. Strange enough there are many independent studies questioning the safety. These studies are made by scientists how probably have no selfish interest like Monsanto does. Also strange enough there is always a big effort to disqualify the studies on frivolous basis. It’s just very odd that all independent studies raise concerns and are getting buried. Wouldn’t you be interested in an independent long-term study whether GMO is safe or not? About the golden rice there are no studies yet that it is actually effective with providing enough vitamin A. I am not a scientist I am a concerned mother and trying to find trustable information about GMO. This paper may perhaps answer some concerns of many consumers which can’t simply be ignored. http://responsibletechnology.org/irtnew/docs/GMO-Myths-and-Truths-edition2.pdf

            2. Heike,

              As I said, I’m not saying Monsanto is squeaky clean, but much of the heat they take is due to the myth that they sue innocent farmers, as well as emotional appeals against GMOs in general.

              GM products have to be tested for their environmental impact and safety. That data is submitted to FDA for review. From my understanding, conventional breeding does not need to undergo similar testing.

              Do you have links to specific independent, peer-reviewed studies on the alleged harms of GMOs? Other than the one that I already addressed earlier?

              There do appear to be some studies showing that golden rice does effectively provide vitamin A. It is also provided under free licenses for subsistence farmers and for humanitarian use (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_rice#Distribution).

              Those who are interested might also like to read about the monetary interests of Earth Open Source (publisher of that GMO Myths and Truths book you linked to): http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/glp-facts/earth-open-source-maharishi-cult-organic-ngo-promotes-anti-gmo-propaganda/. And some interesting resources about the book and its authors: http://wiki.skeptiforum.org/wiki/John_Fagan_and_Michael_Antoniou. That latter link includes resources noting that many of the arguments in the “myths and truths” book are more value-based, than valid arguments against GMOs. But I’ll give the book a glance to see for myself.

  4. I wanted to attend the meeting regarding GMOs but was not feeling well. I appreciate you putting some of the details on line. Thank you. It seems to be a complicated issue with its pros and cons for labeling on a state level. I wish I knew more about the Vermont law and the impact that was having. Has it been implemented?

  5. I think your point of view is interesting looking how it should actually work in reality. As far as I read is Washington more interested in writing protection laws for Monsanto than creating transparency for their people. I think it’s a lame excuse to pass it on to national level. Imagine, if MA would have this law in place and food companies realize they have to label all products shipped to MA. Wouldn’t there be an incentive for these companies to simply label all their products. They already do it for foreign markets. I haven’t read anywhere that there would be any fines for food manufacturers to label their GMO products.

  6. I do agree with your points. And I do tend to buy more organic. I generally limit my processed food intake given the latest headlines re cancer. Unlike many I suppose, I never did much like bacon or hot dogs, the latter always tasted good at a ball game, but not really at home. If you wish to distrust GMO products & not buy them, you really already can do so.

  7. Thanks for your thoughtful explanation. I support your position – and also understand that there are some very good and important uses of GMO foods to produce crops that can withstand the new environmental and disease challenges that the world is seeing.

  8. Having states take on responsibility for things for which the federal government has responsibility is not a good idea even without considering the effects of a global economy. This should stay with the feds! Moreover, the cost to Massachusetts would be enormous and it’s not an extra tax burden we need.

  9. Will,

    Thank you for voicing your thoughts on this issue. I especially thank you for stating the larger issues involved (Federal vs. States, concerns related to agricultural practice in general vs. GMO-specific, etc.). You bring up the question of traits derived from genetic engineering and conventional breeding, highlighting how conventional methods do not undergo the testing required for GM crops yet may still introduce harmful traits. That is one aspect that I think gets lost in many of these discussions. Thank you very much for noting that.

  10. Obviously this is a lot more complicated than it initially seemed to be. Maybe it comes down to the incentives that cause producers to use non GMO (or other product safety labels like use of antibiotics). That in turn would seem to depend on how concerned consumers are, and how they make those concerns known? I believe there are legitimate concerns of organic farmers whose crops may be affected by nearby GMO (or weedkiller, etc) products. And from a public health standpoint the real effect of a lot of modifications won’t be known for a generation or so.

  11. Will, I respect your thoughtfulness on this issue and appreciate you sharing your views, as this is important to me. I respectfully disagree that this issue can simply be left to the Feds. We know that the Feds are beholden to big agribusiness interests and are extremely unlikely to oppose GMOs. States are the laboratories of innovation. If Massachusetts cannot effectively implement a labeling law on its own, let’s do what Connecticut did and say that it only goes into effect if a number of other states enact similar laws.

    I do not trust the federal regulators approving these crops. We should exercise the precautionary principle in these cases and in the regulation of chemicals and drugs. Assuming something is safe until proven otherwise, and relying on industry-funded research, is not the way to protect health and the environment.

    Personally, I think these products should be banned. But that will probably never happen at the Federal level, even though dozens of countries have banned GMOs. If labeling GMOs make people aware of what’s in their food, I think you should support efforts to move in the right direction, and don’t wait for the Feds. The USDA and FDA aren’t going to do anything.

    1. Hi, Sam,

      Just a quick question. You wrote, “Assuming something is safe until proven otherwise, and relying on industry-funded research, is not the way to protect health and the environment.”

      Would you say that all crops should be tested, whether genetically modified or not? If not, why not? Just curious.

  12. Will, as usual yours is a thoughtful position that happens to be also practical.

    From a legal angle, my perspective is that selling of food in the state is not interstate commerce. Acquisition of food by the grocery shops & restaurants is, if the food is coming from out of state.

    If the imposition is on local grocery stores (and I don’t know if the bill is phrased that way) then it does seem to fall under state jurisdiction, does it not?

    Here is a possible compromise:

    You could require the GMO information and other ancillary data in an open database, thus allowing customers to scan the data on their favorite Android or iPhone app. This data could be entered by the store itself, in case it’s unavailable from the vendor.

  13. I applaud your skepticism. Here is an excerpt from a column by Mark Bittman in the NY Times on 5/6/15:

    “…Then there are G.M.O.’s: OMG (the palindrome is irresistible). Someone recently said to me, “The important issues are food policy, sustainability and G.M.O.’s.” That’s like saying, “The important issues are poverty, war and dynamite.” G.M.O.’s are cogs in industrial agriculture, the way dynamite is in war; take either away, and you have solved virtually nothing.
    By themselves and in their current primitive form, G.M.O.s are probably harmless; the technology itself is not even a little bit nervous making. (Neither we nor plants would be possible without “foreign DNA” in our cells.) But to date G.M.O.’s have been used by companies like Monsanto to maximize profits and further removing the accumulated expertise of generations of farmers from agriculture; in those goals, they’ve succeeded brilliantly. They have not been successful in moving sustainable agriculture forward (which is relevant because that was their claim), nor has their deployment been harmless: It’s helped accelerate industrial agriculture and its problems and strengthened the positions of unprincipled companies.
    But the technology itself has not been found to be harmful, and we should recognize the possibility that the underlying science could well be useful (as dynamite can be useful for good), particularly with greater public investment and oversight.
    Let’s be clear: Biotech in agriculture has been overrated both in its benefits and in its dangers. And by overrating its dangers, the otherwise generally rational “food movement” allows itself to be framed as “anti-science.”
    If anti-G.M.O. activists were successful in banning G.M.O.’s, we’d still have industrial agriculture, along with its wholesale environmental degradation and pollution, labor abuse and overproduction of ingredients for the junk food diet…”

  14. While your argument is very American capitalist and lawyer speak. One should also realize that the same food companies that oppose reasonable GMO labeling, label their products for the European Union to comply with GMO labeling rules in the EU.

    The major problem with GMO labeling that major Food processors have is that it may boost Non-GMO crops and effect the money wagon for the suppliers of inputs which are dependent on GMO farming or creating the supply chain issues for the inventors of GMO crops. But remember that several of the largest consumers of farm inputs like McDonalds, Chipotile are moving to reduce their use of GMO, or antibiotic treated inputs. So requiring labeling is not that radical a change.

    And non-GMO does not necessarily mean Organic. Creating Hybrids was around before DNA technology.

    1. My impressions are that the European scientific community is no more worried about GM foods than the American scientific community, which for the most part is not worried.

      I haven’t been able to really do the research on this, but my impression is that EU position on GM seeds is really a political one about keeping out American products.

  15. Will

    I basically agree with you position.

    The chemical industry has been an important factor in food production ever since German chemists synthesized ammonia from nitrogen over 100 years ago.

    GMO labeling of foods is like “herding cats”

    Waste of time

    Bob Singler

  16. I agree that this should be a Federal issue. I’m also very skeptical of the notion that genetic modification of plants and animals poses a major health hazard. I would be much more concerned about threats to individual health such as total calorie intake, inactivity, endocrine modulators and guns, and to collective health such as climate change, epidemics, and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

  17. Senator:
    Thanks for a very well thought out column.

    There is an additional thought to consider:
    While many of us view “organic” food as the “right” stuff, it is also very problematic and potentially dangerous. Whether its tuberculin bacteria in unpasteurized milk or naturally occurring mycotoxins (www.gipsa.usda.gov/fgis/publication/ref/mycobook.pdf)in the soil known to European farmers since since the Middle Ages,there are a broad range of dangers from “organic” foods. “GMO’s” are not necessarily bad, and “organic” is not necessarily good. The chemical and pharmacology industries have contributed greatly to higher agricultural productivity and to food safety, enabling better nutrition and longer life spans.

    As you point out, from a practical viewpoint, the regulation of these issues is best left to the federal government which we all trust is doing fair, thorough and consistent work in the practice of its responsibilities.

  18. Senator Brownsberger,

    You say things that are very sage and very logical and practical. But I have a counterargument.

    You know how California regulates things that are totally toxic before the rest of the US – and then, the Feds end up taking some copy of this legislation? That’s what people who want GMO labeling are asking you to do here in Massachusetts. It’s to stick your neck out and protect us by making Massachusetts an example – albeit a probably constitutionally-challenged example, like VT – for the rest of the nation. This is because big money is behind all of this pro-GMO stuff, and a state voice is needed to change the dynamic and the balance of power.

    Just now, a retired academic who is a friend e-mailed me about this issue, citing a recent NEJM editorial about the multiple harms GMO products can cause, with a focus on herbicide use and environmental destruction. If you were to support legislation aimed at labeling GMO products in MA, you would be paving the way for this to happen at a federal level, which is the level where it should happen (to agree with your point). But I really don’t think it will happen without a state like Massachusetts paving the way.

    As a scientist and your constituent, I hope you will see this point-of-view. I think you are correct in everything you say in a practical sense, but I think you maybe are not seeing how big money and big industry has influenced people into this kind of thought.

    Sincerely,

    Monika M. Wahi, MPH, CPH

    1. Thanks, Monica.

      You make a good point about leading, and I do feel we can lead on some things, like marriage equality . . . see comments above.

      The NEJM article as I read it, is really about chemicals, not about GMO’s per se and it really isn’t clear to me at all that less GMO’s would mean less chemicals in agribusiness.

      1. Sen. Brownsberger,

        Thank you for noting that chemical use isn’t a GMO-specific topic.

        I think it also bears mentioning that a great deal of genetic modification doesn’t involve pesticide/herbicide modifications. Some involves altering the genes that affect how much water is necessary for the plant to grow (e.g., enabling it to grow better in an arid environment). Others involve increasing the nutrient content (e.g., golden rice).

        The pesticide/herbicide issue is, I feel, more to do with how agriculture is done, and less about whether the plant was genetically modified, irradiated, or conventionally bred.

        1. Practically speaking this is absolutely about herbicides and pesticides. 90-95% of all GMO crop grown in the US is Roundup Ready (glyphosate resistant, Monsanto) or similar (from Dow, Syngenta, etc.).

          None of that beautiful talk about feeding the world, saving water, lowering the pesticide/herbicide load, etc. is to be found on America’s fields as they exist today, it is instead about industrial agriculture.

          Let’s make a statement that we don’t like how food is grown using these technologies.

  19. Will, I appreciate your efforts on many fronts but you are on the wrong side of this issue.

    First, we are talking about the labeling of GMOs, not their legal status. Labeling for one state is very much possible without major commercial issues as products labelled “known to the state of California to cause cancer” clearly show. This is simply a “what’s inside” issue and I am very much of the opinion that a consumer has a right to know while they are evaluating the value of a product. There is no federal law forbidding the labeling of GMOs, we would simply apply a higher standard.

    Your reasoning from a strictly legal point of view about interstate commerce omits that there are many other examples where Massachusetts sets its own legal standards above and beyond federal laws, where we found the federal minimum standards as insufficient.

    Three examples:
    Guns: Massachusetts has one of the toughest gun control laws in the nation yet only the most powerful of military style weapons are restricted by the federal code since the Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004. Most guns are imported into Massachusetts and fall under the Commerce Clause.

    Emissions: Massachusetts requires cars and other motorized equipment to conform to California Emissions Standards, going quite far beyond federal EPA guidelines. As far as I know all cars sold here are currently imported into Massachusetts and fall under the Commerce Clause.

    Marijuana: Massachusetts is in the process of opening legal Marijuana dispensaries. Although enforcement has been scaled back Marijuana remains illegal under federal code. Yet Massachusetts now allows the sale of this substance, which is likely mostly imported into Massachusetts and falls under the Commerce Clause.

    1 and 2 are possible because the federal laws and regulations are minimum standards. Number 3 goes much further and directly opposes federal statute.

    Politically speaking it is important for us to have our own law as a future federal solution will be much more likely to be in our favor, especially if there is a clear consensus among states. I hope you will change your mind on this issue and realize that the vote is about what we want, not about who should get to decide.

    1. Thanks, Mike and also to Monica below: I think it is very legitimate for Massachusetts to lead in many areas. I’m proud of what we were able to do on equality of marriage.

      I also am willing to push the boundaries of the commerce clause where I think it will work. But I think each kind of issue has different contours. On labeling issues, I think the following differences do matter:

      • size — we are much smaller than California;
      • direction of the flow of goods (we import most of our food);
      • complexity — GMO is not just one ingredient that states can readily agree on.

      Thanks for weighing in. I’ll keep listening on this.

      1. It is true that California is much bigger than Massachusetts although not by as much as it appears from a geographical comparison. Despite our small geographical size we are number 13 in terms of population with a bit over 2% of the US population. California is around 12% – much bigger but far from having a majority of people.

        And, as you pointed out above, Massachusetts was a the very forefront on the Marriage Equality issue and literally changed the nation, despite our small size.

        This should also be seen in the context of Vermont, Connecticut and especially Maine, all of which have passed GMO labeling laws. Connecticut and Maine have trigger clauses in their laws and only become active if a other states pass similar laws. Maine has an effort (Maine bill LD991) pending to remove the trigger clause.

        If we pass a GMO labeling law without a trigger clause it will bring us another step towards triggering other states and it will help establish a regional block of states with similar attitudes towards GMO labeling.

  20. All GMO “foods” should, at the very least, be labelled as such. The GMO industry is the only ones with “research” showing GMO crops are safe to eat, and do not damage the environment. All independent studies show them as dangerous to both people and environment. 38 countries worldwide have outright banned GMO crops, because their testing was not done by the GMO industry.
    In other words, testing showing them safe is the fox watching the henhouse. I really feel GMO crops, and “foods”, should be banned, but at the very least, they should be labelled, so people can have the choice on whether to eat them or not. It’s my body, I should have that choice. I don’t care whether it’s done on a state, or federal level, I want them labelled.

  21. It sounds like you have already made your decision based on only what the pro gmo interests have fed you. The safety of gmos is not proven and Americans have the right to know what is in our food. Since the federal govt will not take the actions 80% of Americans want (comprehensive gmo labeling) states have to pick up the slack. Americans are not stupid or easily confused as you seem to be inferring..I am offended that you think educated consumers cannot read a label and make decisions about what we purchase and feed our families.

  22. My background is a BS in Soils & Horticulture. It has been known for years that monoculture and over use of any pesticides allow pest organisms to become resistant; we are seeing a huge increase in “super weeds” with the type of large scale farming with GMOs and glyphosate. People and animals are not Round Up ready; the USA has more diseases (allergies, autism, diabetes and cancer) from the 1990-2013 NHI records. We have also dropped for one of the healthiest developed nations to 27th place. I have a family member who is diagnosed with ALS and testing shows he has 4ppb of glyphosate in his urine. Studies of water, soil and air have all found glyphosate; Europeans use way less than the USA and studies found glyphosate in their bodies, too.I have seen how many dollars have been handed out to our government officials from these corporations who have everything to gain by poisoning our food supply and making it illegal to save and use seed.I have also seen report by industry shills and professors who took money for promoting the GMO technology. That is not how true science works. Are you aware that Round Up is a non-specific pesticide? That means it kills what ever plant it comes in contact with unless the plant has been genetically modified to with stand the poison. That fact alone proves that GMOs and regular seeds are not equivalent. I do not want to eat them or feed them to my family. I welcome that there are some who do and they can eat all the GMOs and pesticides they would like; give us all a choice to decide if we do or not. Please do the right thing and let us know what is in our food, that would make everyone happy. Again, those who are telling how great they are can have full access and those of us who prefer not would be able to avoid them. Thank you. I do hope you asked because you care and will not cherry pick the replies you get. I know millions of people want the same as I do.

  23. Before GMO-Induced foods, there were and still are, two other types of food: NON-GMO (Grocery stores call it “conventional”) and Organic. Organic has 2 types of labels, as one is for 99% organic and other 70% organic. The only label for the NON-GMO is from the NON-GMO Project Verification process. Many companies have begun using this process so that their food will not be considered GMO. GMO’s are created to thrive in soils that have become deadened via pesticide and herbicide overdoses to the soil. As a result, GMO’s now will have to become Bio-Fortified. Please check the history, Monsanto states that soils began losing vitamin nutritional value to plants about 60-80 years ago, the same time frame as the first use of pesticides and herbicide. My personal opinion is that if you have received any donations from the organizations that are pushing GMO’s and Bio-fortification, then your vote would be a legal conflict of interest. Also, in October many people called your offices to let you know that they did wanted GMO labeling, they did not want bio-fortification, and that they did not like H.R.1599. Did you not hear those people? Do they need to pick up the phone and call you again?

  24. “A Review on Impacts of Genetically Modified Food on Human Health,” by Charu Verma, Surabhi Nanda, R.K. Singh, R.B. Singh and Sanjay Mishra; published by: The Open Nutraceuticals Journal, 2011, Volume 4.
    ————————————————
    http://bit.ly/1WmHRMu <<<<<<<
    ————————————————
    “GMOS ARE INHERENTLY UNSAFE -There are several reasons why GM plants present unique dangers. The first is that the process of genetic engineering itself creates unpredicted alterations, irrespective of which gene is transferred. This creates mutations in and around the insertion site and elsewhere. The biotech industry confidently asserted that gene transfer from GM foods was not possible; the only human feeding study on GM foods later proved that it does take place. The genetic material in soybeans that make them herbicide tolerant transferred into the DNA of human gut bacteria and continued to function. That means that long after we stop eating a GM crop, its foreign GM proteins may be produced inside our intestines.” “A Review on Impacts of Genetically Modified Food on Human Health,” by Charu Verma, Surabhi Nanda, R.K. Singh, R.B. Singh and Sanjay Mishra; published by: The Open Nutraceuticals Journal, 2011, Volume 4.
    ————————————————

  25. “Legal Analysis of H.R. 1599: An Act to Preempt State GMO Disclosure Laws,” by Jonathan Emord, Esq., Peter Arhangelsky, Esq. and Bethany Kennedy, Esq. EMORD & ASSOCIATES, P.C. August 7, 2015(32 pages).

    Although proponents of H.R. 1599 claim that it promotes accurate food labeling, the legislation in fact codifies information

    >>>> suppression which promotes consumer confusion. <<<<>>>>imposing a prior restraint on the right to communicate that products are GMO free. <<<<<>>> regulation of speech in violation <<<<<<>>>>>>> of the First Amendment. <<<<<

    ————————————————————-
    ****
    ——-
    “Legal Analysis of H.R. 15999: An Act to Preempt State GMO Disclosure Laws.”
    http://bit.ly/1jbY5qq <<<<<<<<<<<
    ————————————————————-

    1. SAFLA simultaneously prevents those who sell foods free of genetically engineered ingredients from communicating that fact without federal authorization, while it relieves those who sell foods containing genetically engineered ingredients from having to disclose that fact on the label.
      [“Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015” =SAFLA]

      It is thus a content-based and speaker specific

      >>>> regulation of speech in violation <<<<<<>>>>>>> of the First Amendment. <<<<<

  26. I see it this way. We have a right to know acurately and truthfully what we are putting into our mouths and feeding our children, whether good or bad. If I do not know, I will not eat it or feed it to my children. No label? Not on our table. Food is sacred.

  27. We need to follow the lead of the 61 or so other nations that have banned GMO. They are not safe for us to eat. There’s plenty of scientific research out there supporting my views and I will leave it you to do some research. As for me and my family we choose to know what we are eating, and also to pay attention to nature and the eco system. Roundup, as you know has now been confirmed a carcinegentic and it is found in the water, the soil, breast milk and even hospital IV’s. Please wake up and wake up everyone you know. We don’t need MONSANTO to feed the world. They are trying to destroy it.

  28. Label gmos so that we, who chose to avoid them, can avoid them. If they are so safe why are they afraid to label them? Should they not feel proud to label them? That should aend red flags flying right there. Let us have our right to chose.

  29. 90% of the people want genetically engineered foods labeled and the federal government has failed us miserably. The federal government is corrupt and heavily influenced by money.
    The states are all saying the same thing: LABEL GMO.
    Genetically engineered crops will contaminate organic and conventional crops. If we don’t want GMO, we have to fight against it.
    —- Over the past couple of decades, the production cost advantages of GM crops have led to the near universal use (in the United States) of GM seeds in the commercial farming of certain major staples — corn, soy, canola and sugar beets—-
    ****Genetically engineered crops are failing as we speak:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZQz_i3Z3qg
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0qYjbG8izs
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJabkrtIcy4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgH1vVuPIE8
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X035PNAwgs0
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUt_pp3NUUc

    Super Weeds will stop Monsanto:
    http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=8767911
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsu4WKQ9g18 (Preview)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KR5Zb7liZMc (Preview)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wn9qMSFl2F4&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hz3ItXOCses&feature=related
    http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/48721bc6-38cb-5cf0-aae1-2b1a7e85cea5.html
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3SP_ucCHwU (Preview) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhTyQ0dn4_Q (Preview) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaTr2BUCKSY (Preview) http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/jan10/scientists_find_negative_impacts_of_GM_crops.php
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v%20=Cs7bqqBApm4(Preview) corn rootworm
    Genetically engineered volunteer weeds causing problems for farmers
    Soybean weed scouting:
    Control of volunteer corn http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80XoghJGEhg Volunteer corn weed of the week:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4EjlnEEbL0
    volunteer canola weed of the week:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAgwsmlm7Lw volunteer corn
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVC7L8mVm5k volunteer canola weed of the week: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfZvUNPliV4 (Preview) volunteer canola
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOANBk8euP8
    Soybean weed scouting: Control of volunteer corn
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0qYjbG8izs

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJabkrtIcy4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgH1vVuPIE8
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X035PNAwgs0
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUt_pp3NUUc
    volunteer corn

  30. Thanks so much for taking an evidence-based look at this issue. You are right to be skeptical about this bill. I wrote up a piece that I sent to my pols on this, which I have linked in the website box.

    I have also looked at the Kosher labeling system. It’s an excellent model for a strategy that’s based on philosophical objections to food production methods. http://www.biofortified.org/2013/08/what-is-kosher/

    And people who raise the issues of herbicides often fail to understand that herbicides are used with non-GMOs, and some GMOs have nothing to do with herbicides. If you dislike herbicides, fine–but then you need to aim better. GMOs are the wrong target. Glyphosate is the biggest herbicide in Europe–where they largely avoid growing GMOs.

    I also reviewed Sheldon Krimsky’s dreadful book at that web site. You can look at my other posts over there.

    Kudos on your close look at this matter.

    1. Will, you might have access to these kind of reports, which are way too expensive for most people. This one clearly shows the connection between GMOs as they are used in the real world and glyphosate.

      From Transparency Market Research:
      “The report states 45.2% of the total glyphosate demand in 2012 was from genetically modified crop farms.”

      http://globenewswire.com/news-release/2015/10/20/777478/10153000/en/Glyphosate-Market-Expected-to-Reach-US-8-79-Billion-in-2019-Transparency-Market-Research.html

      Original Source: (Sorry, $4,800 paywall)
      http://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/glyphosate-market.html

        1. Glyphosate is used a lot more heavily on GMO crops.

          Only 13% of crops acreage is GMO worldwide yet 45.2% of glyphosate are used on those crops.

  31. Based on Mary Mangan’s comments below I ran some numbers:

    Glyphosate is used a lot more heavily on GMO crops. Only 13% of crops acreage is GMO worldwide yet 45.2% of glyphosate are used on those crops.

    A quick calculation:
    Global area of GMO Cultivation (2014): ~180 million hectares (http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/16/)

    Global arable land (2014): ~1400 million hectares (http://ourworldindata.org/data/food-agriculture/land-use-in-agriculture/)

    Resulting global share of GMO crops: 13%.

    13% of worldwide crops are GMO yet 45.2% of the glyphosate market is from GMO crop farms.

    Conclusion:
    GMO farms use A LOT more glyphosate per acre than other farms.

    I must say, this is much worse and much clearer than I had imagined before I ran the numbers. I suppose I could thank you for making me run the numbers.

    1. And yet you can’t math away the fact that more than half the glyphosate is non-GMO use. Facts are hard that way.

      You might also want to talk to farmers about what would happen if glyphosate was unavailable to them. There’s some commentary from them here: https://www.facebook.com/AskTheFarmers/posts/1619622088269043?comment_id=1619680378263214&notif_t=feed_comment

      In case that link becomes unavailable, I’ll just highlight this one:

      If roundup were to be banned, the use of another similar product will grow, Gluphosinate, or Liberty. The other option would be to return to more tillage practices to kill weeds before planting. That would result in a sharp rise in erosion and more sediment in the streams. Others would go back to using the herbicides that roundup replaced, like atrazine, acetachlor and metolachlor in corn. It could also take away some of our rotation crops such as soybeans and weed control would become very difficult. That would result in reduced crop diversity.

      I’m glad we had the time for facts. It should help others too.

      1. Here is what is wrong with your argument:
        All of your statements sound like using industrial agriculture methods with lots of chemicals and a gazillion other irresponsible practices are the normal state of nature. The world was somehow in a weird state before big Ag and big Chem came to the rescue.

        GMOs are one of the legs industrial agriculture stands on, which is why they should be labeled. Strangely, you’d never know from the tone of this debate that it’s only about labeling – you sound like we are debating their outright ban.

        I agree with Cassandra below. This industry is one of very few that tries to pass of their products as “just the same as the other stuff, don’t even mention it”. If it’s so great that I would want to buy it you should proudly label it.

        There is one other industry that acts like this: counterfeiters. They are trying to pass off their products as being the same as the real stuff. In this case it’s widely agreed upon that it should be illegal.

  32. Essentially all food is GMO, think apples, wheat, cattle breeding et al, this issue is a tempest in a tea pot. GMO is a necessity to feed the planet.

    1. Sorry, but this is simply bunk – a message that is repeated over and over and over by those who stand to profit from it.

      We destroy enormous amounts of food worldwide every year.

      In any case, unsustainable agriculture practices don’t help in the long run and it doesn’t get much less sustainable as using herbicide resistant crops as they are used by factory farms in the real world.

  33. Thank you. The GMO issue confuses me but I know it’s important. I friend, who’s 80, feels that the increase in autism and other diseases (including mine, Multiple Sclerosis) is related to tampering with food over the years. The soil contains less nutrients; cows, chickens, etc., are pumped up with hormones; food products from other countries (China is one example) are not well regulated and have poisoned animals and babies. I’m almost 68 and my 80 year old friend asked me if I remember children having peanut allergies, and I don’t. Practically everybody ate peanut butter sandwiches when I was a child. And Celiac disease (inability to tolerate gluten) appears to have increased (I was totally unaware of it until Jane Swift’s dealing with the disease was publicized). In any event, I’m glad you have a clear understanding of the issue and realize that dealing with huge corporations and making them transparent and compliant is a major hurdle.

  34. Sold out dude. We have a right to know what or how or food is processed. You make some decent arguments on why it may be difficult but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Monsanto is the devil in all this. Their attempt to control our food chain through controlling the seeds we purchase is despicable and you’re assisting them by not supporting labeling.Obama promised this and just like other dems he reneged. Now you’re on the side of Monsanto, Dow etc. How’s that make you feel.

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