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National Groups Join Illinois Consumers to Rally For GMO Labels at Senate Hearing

September 17, 2013

Chicago — This morning, national consumer advocacy organizations, led by Food & Water Watch, Consumers Union and Organic Consumers Association, and hundreds of people, gathered downtown for a hearing called by Illinois Senator Dave Koehler, chair of the Agriculture and Conservation Committee, to debate the merits of SB1666, a bill that would require all foods containing over 1 percent genetically engineered (GE) ingredients to be labeled.

“Today’s tremendous turnout demonstrates that consumers and farmers alike are infuriated that biotech companies are not held to the same safety standards as other food producers in delivering products we can trust,” said Jessica Fujan, Midwest organizer at Food & Water Watch. “The overwhelming consensus from today’s hearing is that the demand to know what’s in our food has never been greater – it’s time to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs).”

“One big problem with safety assessments of GE plants is that there have been very few long-term animal feeding studies, with most feeding studies being of 90 days or shorter,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at Consumers Union, the public policy arm of Consumer Reports, who testified at the hearing. “A review of 94 studies found ‘a strong association was found between author affiliation to industry (professional conflict of interest) and study outcome’ in terms of health risk or nutritional assessment. There is a lot of industry bias in much of the feeding and nutritional studies involving GE foods and more independent testing is clearly needed.”

At the hearing, Professor Ann Reisner of the University of Illinois highlighted the lack of oversight the Food and Drug Administration has given GE food products. “Research on the long-term effect of a substance on human health depends on our ability to identify populations that do not use that substance, a process that would be greatly enhanced by labeling foods containing genetically engineered material,” said Reisner.

Biotechnology giants such as Monsanto and DuPont and groups like the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) have tried to thwart popular efforts to create transparent GE food labels in other states by threatening an increase in food prices.

“There is no evidence that food costs have increased due to GMO labeling in countries that require it,” said Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch’s assistant director, who also testified at today’s hearing. “An impartial consulting firm did a study in 2001 for the UK Food Standards Agency and found GE labeling would only increase a household’s annual food spending by about $.33 to $5.58 in 2010 real U.S. dollars, inflation-adjusted, annually.”

The hearing was attended by the Senate Subcommittee on Food Labeling that will give recommendations to the full Agriculture Committee. Food & Water Watch has worked alongside Senator Koehler in the promotion of SB 1666 and with former House Representative Deborah Mell on HB 3085. Both bills will be reintroduced in the Spring.

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