New Hampshire legislators are deliberating House Bill 660, a bill requiring labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. New Hampshire is one of 26 states considering mandatory GMO labeling. Maine and Connecticut have already approved it with contingencies. And in Washington, D.C., the Just Label It campaign and others have garnered 1.3 million signatures demanding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve federal labeling, the largest number of citizens to ever comment on any FDA regulation. National polls show that 92 percent of Americans support labeling, with no significant difference among Republicans, Democrats and independents.
Why is this right-to-know movement spreading, and why should New Hampshire residents care?
First approved for use in 1996, today the spread of GMO (genetically modified organism) corn and soy means that more than 70 percent of our processed foods contain genetically engineered material. Yet because they are not labeled, most Americans do not know this.
The primary traits engineered into these new patented life forms are for herbicide or insecticide tolerance. Despite two decades of assurances by the seed/chemical company patent holders to Congress and regulators that GMO crops would yield less chemical use, the opposite has happened. Between 1996 and 2011, more than 527 million pounds of herbicides have been sprayed on our farms, compared to what would have happened if GMO crops were not used. In 2012, nearly 300 MM pounds of glyphosate were sprayed, compared to 14 MM pounds used in 1996. The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that Corn Belt residents are now breathing herbicides, and they are spreading to our nation’s waterways.
The Commerce Department clearly see these organisms as unique, for they have granted the seed/chemical companies hundreds of patents for these new life forms. And these companies have spent many millions of dollars successfully defending their patents. No wonder: This technology is a real money-maker for the patent holders who charge much more for GMO seeds, and then sell more herbicides to the farmers planting them.
Yet the FDA views these crops as “substantially equivalent” to non-GMO crops and therefore does not require labels.
But their approval has been almost exclusively based on studies conducted or funded by the patent holders, with no independent analysis of their long-term impacts.
Regarding safety, we simply don’t yet have enough data to ascertain the long-term impacts of these unprecedented new foods. Several National Academy of Sciences reports suggest genetically engineered crops might be causing acute or chronic health effects, but without labels, scientists cannot recognize linkages between genetically engineered food intake and allergies or other problems.
Sixty-four other nations, including all of the European Union, Russia and even China, require labeling of genetically engineered foods. So over half the world’s citizens have the right to know what they are eating. Americans deserve the same.
Many more genetically engineered crops are in the approval pipeline. Some may eventually offer nutritional or yield benefits. But for now, consumers must have a choice whether or not to buy these foods and indirectly support this cycle of increased chemical usage.
One of New Hampshire’s bedrock values is protection of citizens’ freedoms and rights, even in the face of well-funded opponents. Since 1998, Monsanto, one of the largest GMO patent holders, has spent nearly $62 million on lobbying in Washington in part to stop labeling, and that does not include their campaign contributions. And Dow, Dupont and others have operated similarly. Collectively, they spent tens of millions of dollars to stop California residents’ labeling referendum last year and this week, they announced donations totaling over $7 million to try to stop a Washington State labeling effort. And now their lobbyists are here in our State House too.
To be clear, HB 660 does not seek to stop the use of GMOs. It merely demands that labels are used so that citizens’ rights to know are protected. This bill will not cost consumers anything – a study released this week showed that adding “Contains” or “May Contain” GMOs will not increase food prices.
This battle is about more than just labeling GMOs. It is about whether our state and our nation will stand for the people or for a handful of corporations who are protecting their profits. New Hampshire has the opportunity to ensure that citizens’ rights are protected above all else.
(Gary Hirshberg of Concord is chairman of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of the national Just Label It campaign.)