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3/12/2015 Sen. Nesselbush calls for labeling of genetically modified products
STATE HOUSE – The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about 70 percent of the processed food products sold in supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients (referred to as GMOs, for genetically modified organisms) and a higher percentage of corn, soy and peanuts are genetically modified. A genetically engineered food is a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered in a laboratory by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, pesticide or bacteria. This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature and is experimental and the definition does not include so-called hybridization of plants.

Since there is currently no federal or Rhode Island requirement that genetically engineered foods be labeled, Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence) has introduced a bill calling for labeling of food products that contain GMOs.

Unlike the strict safety evaluations required for the approval of new drugs, the safety of genetically engineered foods for human consumption is not adequately tested. There have been no long-term studies conducted on the safety of genetically engineered foods for humans, according to GMO Action Alliance, an alliance of grassroots organizations from states across the U.S. working to educate people about the issue. However, animal studies suggest that GMOs may cause damage to the immune system, liver and kidneys.

“In an average grocery store, most of the processed foods contain GMOs,” said Senator Nesselbush. “Unfortunately, Rhode Islanders shopping at their neighborhood Shaw’s or Stop & Shop or Dave’s don’t know if the food they are buying and eating contains GMOs, because there is no labeling requirement. This needs to change; even if we aren’t sure yet if there is an impact on health, the people still have the right to know what they are eating.”

U.S. government scientists have said that the artificial insertion of genetic material into plants via genetic engineering can cause a variety of significant problems with plant food.  The joint commission of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations established a protocol for evaluating GMO safety. The commission says that GMOs have the potential to introduce new toxins and new allergens as well as other unexpected effects.

The legislation (2015-S 0557) would require that all genetically engineered food offered for retail sale in Rhode Island contain a label with the disclosure that the food is produced with genetic engineering. The labeling requirement would not take effect until four northeastern states, one of which borders Rhode Island, with a total aggregate population of 20 million people have all enacted a similar labeling requirement. The contemplated label would read “Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Maine, Connecticut and Vermont have already passed GMO labeling bills, although similar legislation has been introduced in about 30 states, including Massachusetts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Maine bill, signed earlier this year, does not go into effect, however, until five nearby states adopt similar labeling laws. Likewise, a provision of the Connecticut law is that it doesn’t take effect until a combination of Northeastern states that add up to 20 million residents pass similar legislation — a provision backers say is necessary to build a broad base of support.

“My bill addresses concerns I’ve heard from Rhode Islanders and exempts food sold in restaurants and food made for immediate consumption as well as food sold at farmers’ markets and food from animals that may have eaten GMO food as well as alcohol. Approximately 60 countries, including the European Union countries, have required GMO labeling without increasing food costs, and state after state, including Massachusetts, is considering jumping on the bandwagon,” said Senator Nesselbush. “I believe that every Rhode Islander deserves to know whether the food they are about to eat contains GMOs, and since the federal government has abdicated its responsibility, the time is now for our state government to step in.”

Michael Liberatore of Rhode Islanders for GMO Labeling praised Senator Nesselbush for her bold legislation. “This is strong leadership and a strong step forward. People deserve to know what they’re eating, and if passed, this bill will place Rhode Island in the forefront of the nation."

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick), Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Paul W. Fogarty (D-Dist. 23, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield) and Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston). It has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903