I don't know about you, but I like
"choice," and so do an increasing number of Rhode Islanders who care
deeply about what they eat. Whether it
is parents looking for the best food for their children or our top chefs
interested in the freshest ingredients, “buy local” appears to be gaining
traction. Great organizations like Farm
Fresh RI and the RI Food Policy Council are working to make local food sources
more prevalent, more sustainable and more affordable. We are proud of our reputation as a leader in
I feel strongly that "you are what you
eat." Knowing this truism, people across Rhode Island are telling us they want more
information about the food they put in their shopping carts. One of the most spirited issues right now
surrounds genetically modified foods. Are they good for us or bad for us? The
problem is that we really don't know.
In an average grocery store, roughly 75
percent of processed foods contain "genetically modified organisms"
or GMOs. Unfortunately, Rhode Islanders shopping at their neighborhood Shaw’s
or Stop & Shop or Dave’s don’t know if the food they are buying contains
GMOs, because there is no labeling requirement. This needs to change. In the
spirit of Roger Williams, Rhode Islanders have a "right to know" what
we are eating, and we, as a state, should join the growing coalition of states
requiring labeling of GMO foods. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have already passed GMO labeling legislation,
and a similar bill in Massachusetts
has the support of 75 percent of the legislature. Additionally, over 60
countries, from Russia to Italy
(and almost all of the developed world) have enacted similar legislation. The
European Union has required GMO labeling since 1997.
Genetically engineered food is prevalent in
grocery stores, yet the U.S.
government does not perform or require independent safety testing. Perhaps this is because the biotech industry
allegedly, according to the Food and Water Watch, has spent $547 Million
lobbying Congress from 1999-2009. To make matters worse, according to the same
organization, over 300 former Congressional and White House staff members are
now employed by biotech firms as lobbyists. This doesn't smell right, alongside
a growing body of evidence linking GMOs to personal health risks and
environmental impacts. While further research is needed, public opinion polls
repeatedly show more than 90% of Americans want to be able to make informed
decisions about whether or not they purchase and consume GMOs.
Despite the overwhelming support of the
American people, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, representing the
largest chemical and food processing companies, are fighting labeling
requirements here and in other states, because they would prefer to keep
consumers in the dark about what they are eating. So much for "you are what you eat"
and “the customer is always right.” They
claim that providing factual information about our food will confuse consumers
and raise food prices.
Fortunately, we don't have to rely on
industry-funded assertions of impossibility and impracticality. Dozens of countries have labeled GMOs without
increasing food costs, and state after state is considering jumping on the
bandwagon. I believe that every Rhode
Islander deserves to know whether food contains GMOs, and the time is now for
our state government to step in.
I have filed legislation in the Senate that
would create a GMO labeling requirement in Rhode Island, and I thank Representatives
Raymond Hull, Dennis Canario and Blake Fillippi who have also filed GMO bills
in the House. There are differences in the various pieces of legislation, but
the point is to require that products containing GMOs be plainly labeled, so
that consumers can simply decide for themselves whether or not to buy them and
eat them. I have nothing personally "against" GMOs, I just think
people have a right to know if they are eating them.
Let’s make Rhode Island the next state to join the
trend toward a transparent food supply for all Rhode Islanders where the
ingredients are not masked by the huge corporations that, not surprisingly, may
be motivated more by money than by health.
Nesselbush is a Democratic Rhode Island state senator representing District 15,
which includes portions of Pawtucket and North Providence. She introduced
legislation this week to require labeling of food containing genetically