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"Pennsylvania's leading progressive state senator," as he described himself, has done it again. State Senator Daylin Leach (17th District - Montgomery & Delaware counties), in addition to bills in favor of marriage equality and marijuana legalization, has now introduced Senate Bill 653 which would mandate the labeling of all genetically engineered (GE) foods, or foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMO's), sometimes referred to as "Frankenfood."

The Center for Food Safety, an organization cited by Leach, says:

By being able to take the genetic material from one organism and insert it into the permanent genetic code of another, biotechnologists have engineered numerous novel creations, such as potatoes with bacteria genes, “super” pigs with human growth genes, fish with cattle growth genes, tomatoes with flounder genes, and thousands of other plants, animals and insects. At an alarming rate, these creations are now being patented and released into the environment.

Currently, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as are 91 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products). According to industry, up to 95% of sugar beets are now GE. It has been estimated that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.

A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.

That's right, "super" pigs with human growth genes. Yum! I don't know about you, but I suddenly have a righteous hankering for a hot dog.

No state in America has a law requiring GMO labels on food products that have been created like this, though in 2012 there was a referendum on the ballot in California to do so that went down 53.1-46.9 after $46 million was spent opposing it (including money from Monsanto and Pepsi) compared to $9 million in favor. In a press release, Senator Leach said his legislation is "similar" to the California referendum and pointed out that eight countries in the European Union have banned the cultivation and/or sale of genetically engineered foods entirely. He also compared the struggle to have GE foods labeled to past (eventually successful) fights to have ingredient labels, nutritional information and calorie counts on food products.

Daylin Leach
There is a short amateur video available where you can watch Senator Leach answer a couple questions about SB 653. Another press release from his office said, "Despite the lack of legislative action on this issue so far in the United States, sixty-one countries (including Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, Russia, Malaysia, the European Union member states and other key U.S. trading partners) already have laws requiring disclosure of genetically modified organisms on food labels," and quoted him saying:
I’ve introduced this bill not to ban genetically engineered foods, but to allow consumers to choose which items they purchase. I am concerned about the lack of information available about the presence of genetically engineered food, and I believe it is every consumer’s right to know what ingredients are found in the products they buy. We can find out how much fat and sodium are in our food, with a full list of ingredients and nutritional information on every box, but we are not informed about the inclusion of ingredients that could be potentially detrimental to our health and wellness.
In an interview with USA Today, Biotechnology Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest Director Gregory Jaffe said that while genetically engineered foods are under the the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA does not test them before they're allowed to be produced and sold, there is only a "voluntary consultation process" and the FDA assumes GE foods are safe unless they have evidence indicating otherwise. The problems with that are blatant enough. If they're not doing the tests, they're not going to have the evidence needed to know the foods are unsafe, and if corporations legally obligated to prioritize profits over people (as they are) are in charge of doing their own tests, it's awfully generous to assume they'd be altruistic enough to come forward with evidence that their own products are unsafe and voluntarily take the hit in profits that would come with abandoning them. It's as close to "the fox watching the hen house" being a literal assessment as I've ever encountered.
genetically engineered modified carrot food
Especially with the FDA out to lunch (that counts as a pun, right?) on this, it's as critical as can be that we get mandatory labels on all foods that have been genetically engineered or modified. Like Leach's bills for marriage equality and marijuana legalization, this isn't a public policy fight that's going to be won overnight, but it is important for progressives to have an elected official staking out this position as a starting point to elevate the debate and for people to coalesce around the issue. Recent polling shows majorities in favor of the marriage, marijuana, and GMO labeling positions alike. It didn't hit me immediately when I first heard the phrase "you are what you eat" that it is literally true, but it is, and regulating what we put into our bodies has to be among the most sacred abilities we have. Or, at least, it ought to be.

Originally posted to ProgressivePatriotPA on Thu Mar 21, 2013 at 03:39 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Pennsylvania and Environmental Foodies.

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