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Illinois considers GMO labelling

Supporters and opponents of state legislation to require labelling of genetically-engineered food will testify Tuesday at a State Senate subcommittee hearing in Chicago.

The subcommittee on food labelling will consider SB 1666, sponsored by subcommittee chair David Koehler (D-Springfield), on Tuesday, September 17 at 10:30 a.m. in Room C 600 of the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

Testifying in support of Koehler’s bill will be Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist of Consumers Union; Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch; and UIC professors Ann Reisner and William Kling.

Opinion polls show popular support for labelling of genetically-engineered foods in the range of 90 percent.  Fifty developed nations require labelling, including every European Union member.  Connecticut and Maine also require it, and 26 other states are currently considering similar measures.

Two previous hearing showed strong support for the measure downstate, said Emily Carroll of Food and Water Watch.  She said farmers in Central Illinois complain of sharply increased herbicide usage, necessary to address “superweeds” which have developed resistance to herbicides which GE crops are bred to withstand.

“We’re seeing a huge ‘superweed’ problem” as biotech companies respond to “pesticides that are no longer working” by “wratcheting up the toxicity level” — including the recent promotion of 2,4-D, an Agent Orange component — said Emily Carroll, a local organizer for FWW.   Some of these herbicides have demonstrated human health risks, she said.

Opponents of the bill argue that it would raise food costs and give them impression that genetically-engineered foods are unsafe.

According to FWW, many steps that would be required are already being taken, including segregating seeds and labelling products for ingredients and nutritional value, as well as steps required for exporting food to nations requiring labeling.  While the food industry projects major costs for consumers, FWW points to research showing that labeling in Europe has actually had negligible cost effects.

And while the food industry points to numerous studies finding genetically-engineered foods to be safe, critics say the research is incomplete, in part because biotech companies bar cultivation for research purposes.  Some research has turned up evidence of health impacts in laboratory animals, they say.

The federal FDA ruled in 1996 that genetically-engineered foods are no different than conventional foods.  State-level mandating of labelling wouldn’t be the first time that states instituted such regulations before the federal government was willing to do so, Carroll said.

The vast majority of Illinois’s corn crop and the nation’s soybeans and cotton are grown from genetically engineered seeds.  Biotech companies are now experimenting with genetically-engineered salmon and hogs.

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