New Yorkers Wage Urgent Battle for GMO Label Law

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Common Dreams

New Yorkers Wage Urgent Battle for GMO Label Law

Industry groups spending millions to kill a bill likely to create a "domino effect" in the northeast

According to a recent poll, approximately 93% of all Americans support GMO labeling. (Photo: CT Senate Democrats/ cc/ Flickr)

Campaigners for a bill to label foods made with genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) in New York are racing against the clock this week as they rally for a vote before state lawmakers on Thursday adjourn for the year.

In what has emerged as a pivotal battle in the state-by-state labeling fight, outside industry groups have spent millions to lobby against Bill A03525, according to a recent report (pdf) by the New York Public Interest Research Group.

"If New York passes a bill it will be a game changer," Stacie Orell, campaign director for the grassroots group GMO Free NY told Common Dreams. Because of New York's economic power and population of 19 million people, a labeling law in the state will send a strong message to both the industry and the federal government, Orell explained.

Further, passage of a GMO label law in New York would create a "domino effect" in the region, Orell continues, nearly fulfilling the trigger clause for the Conneticut GMO label law, which passed last June.

Diana Reeves, founder of GMO Free USA, told Common Dreams that the corporate food industry is "trying to be strategic about where they pick their fights and invest their funding."

Reeves cited the PIRG report which found that in 2013 alone, companies including Monsanto, Kraft, and the Grocery Manufacturer's Association spent over $3.2 million lobbying New York lawmakers, outspending supporters by nearly 7 to 1.

"The industry thinks that if they can derail New York, taking a big chunk of the population out, the will set the East Coast back another year," said Reeves, who is based in Connecticut.

The New York GMO bill, put forth by Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (Democrat/Working Families Party-Manhattan) and Senator Kenneth Lavalle (Republican-District 1), has for months been stalled in committees in both the state Senate and Assembly. Campaigners are calling on New Yorkers to pressure Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos to bring the bill to a vote before the bodies adjourn on Thursday.

According to Reeves, if the vote does not happen before the session is over the bill will have to start again "from scratch." However, not to be deterred, Reeves said it's "just a matter of time" before the U.S. joins the 64 other countries that require labels for GMO foods.

If the bill becomes law, New York will join Vermont, which last month passed the first effective label legislation.

The Connecticut law requires that four additional states, including one on the border, pass similar legislation. Further, a combination of northeastern states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania or New Jersey), with an aggregate population of at least 20 million people, must approve labeling legislation.

Passage of a label law in New York would satisfy both the population and neighboring state requirements. According to Orell, Massachusetts has a promising bill also in the pipeline. With the passage of both New York and Massachusetts, much of the northeast would mandate labels for foods made with GMOs.

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