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Congress Ponders "Right to Know" Bill to Label G-M-O Foods

February 17, 2012

BARRE, Mass. – The rise of genetically-modified foods on supermarket shelves has raised concerns in Massachusetts and across the country - and now, has prompted legislation in Congress to label these foods. Jack Kittredge, policy director for the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, says genetically-modified crops – also known as GMO or transgenic crops – pose several challenges.

"We're very concerned about the damage that transgenic crops represent, not only to the consumers who eat them but to the environment where they're planted, and to organic farmers, which they may contaminate. We have long urged that they be labeled, so consumers know what they're getting."

Supporters of genetically-modified foods say they can solve the world's hunger problems and help a farmer's bottom line. Opponents of GMO production counter that GMO crops are risky enough that consumers should have the right to know if they're buying food that has been genetically modified.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved unrestricted use of genetically-engineered alfalfa, the nation's fourth-largest crop. To Andrew Kimbrell, founder of the Center for Food Safety, the decision sends a message that federal agencies aren't doing enough to ensure food safety.

"I think what you are seeing with the FDA, the USDA and even the EPA is, these are agencies really working to benefit a handful of major chemical companies, and not really acting on behalf of the American consumer, which is what they are supposed to be doing."

Kimbrell says polls indicate the public wants genetically-engineered foods to be clearly labeled. Congress is considering the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act (HR 3553), to require such labeling. The bill has 19 co-sponsors, none from the Bay State.

Kimbrell cites GMO crops as one factor contributing to what he sees as the larger problem of industrial agriculture. In his view, consumers and farmers need to work together and get back to basics, to build a lasting food future.

"We need agriculture that's local, appropriate-scale, diverse, humane and socially just. That's the 'beyond organic' vision - and it's not pie in the sky. We're going to have to do this, because the other system is simply unsustainable."

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - MA