Published on Wednesday, June 21, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Takes Local Action Against Frankenfoods
by Tom Zoellner
San Francisco city officials yesterday took a bite-sized
move toward rejecting genetically engineered foods by urging city
purchasers to favor organic food vendors.
The Planning and Policy Committee of the city's Commission on the Environment unanimously passed an unusual resolution that urges all city departments to give preferential treatment to organic food vendors when the city awards catering contracts for special parties and events.
Caterers who avoid genetically engineered food -- known to its foes as ``Frankenfood'' -- would also get an advantage over competitors.
The resolution, which does not carry the force of law, is likely to pass the full Commission of the Environment, said President Randall Hayes. From there, it must get the approval of the city Board of Supervisors.
The measure won applause from Simon Harris of the Organic Consumers Association. He said scientific testing of engineered foods from the federal Food and Drug Administration has been lax, and the public could be exposed to unknown culinary dangers.
``The primary goal of the U.S. government is to rush these foods to the supermarket shelves as quickly as possible with a minimum amount of testing,'' he said.
But one lobbyist from the grocery industry said the resolution was overcautious and could hinder the advancement of foods genetically altered to include vaccines and vitamins, creating products that can benefit poor countries.
``Efforts like this take the technology a step backward,'' said Lance Hastings, of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
The push to label genetically altered food in San Francisco is an outgrowth of a nascent drive to pass similar laws on the state level.
This April in Sacramento, the Senate agricultural committee rejected a proposal from Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Tom Hayden to require all grocery stores and restaurants in California to label products that had genetically modified ingredients.
Local representatives from Greenpeace helped shape the language of the proposed resolution, said commission member Parin Shah, adding that similar resolutions have been introduced in Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Boston.
In Berkeley, the school district has a policy-mandated goal of serving organic foods in its cafeterias.
San Francisco's resolution would call upon elected city officials to urge the federal government to label genetically engineered foods until they have been proved safe.