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Queens Chronicle

Students press for food-labeling bill

Genetic modifications at issue

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Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 12:25 pm, Thu Apr 3, 2014.

Some people are concerned about what they eat, including the students in the Queens College NYPIRG chapter, who ambushed shoppers outside Aron’s Kissena Farms in Flushing on Friday to ask them to call Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) to pressure him to vote for a bill that requires labeling foods containing genetically modified organisms in New York State.

Simanowitz already supports the bill, but the members of the New York Public Interest Research Group chapter want him to know his constituents do too.

“GMOs have never been properly tested. We don’t know what effects they’ll have,” said Julia Bernhardt, an environmental science major and NYPIRG co-project leader. “We just want to know what’s in our food.”

The students carried clipboards and cards with information about the bill, designated as A3525 and S3835, which is sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Brooklyn) and Senator Kenneth LaValle (D-Suffolk) and co-sponsored by some Queens officials.

“GMOs are not inherently bad, it’s just that there’s no information,” said Peter Himmelman, a co-project leader for NYPIRG. “Consumers should be aware of what they’re buying and putting into their bodies.”

Maine and Connecticut have laws requiring the labeling of GMO foods, but legislation recently died in Washington State and California. New York does not have any laws regarding GMOs.

A Senate memo about the bill defines genetic engineering as a “process which allows for the altering of the genetic material contained in an organism to change the characteristics the organism will display as it develops.

“The introduction of these new genes is no longer limited to genes from similar species, as the genes from animals or other plant species can be added to create new character traits within a particular organism. The genes are generally introduced into the cells of the organism with the use of viruses, antibiotic-resistant genes, and bacteria.”

Gabe Recchio, a NYPIRG project coordinator, noted that Simanowitz sits on the Assembly’s Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection and that the bill has to get out of the committee before it hits the Assembly floor.

“We thought we had the ‘yes’ votes last year, but it sketchily didn’t happen,” Recchio said. “The fight has been going on for a long time. Time and time again, common-sense legislation like this is shot down by big money and special interests.”

Recchio reported that while engaging passersby was not as easy as clipboarding on the Queens College campus, the community members who stopped to talk to him responded well and agreed that labeling GMOs is common sense.

Sarah Shpritzman phoned Simanowitz’s office to support the bill because she thinks the issue is “very important.”

“We want to know what we’re having,” she said.

Haina Just-Michaels was shopping with her daughter Sarah, a nutrition major at Queens College. She said Sarah taught her about GMOs and prompted her to “shop a little differently.” She now buys more fruits and vegetables and watches the stickers on the food.

Corn, soy, cotton, wheat, apples and strawberries are among the most common plants containing GMOs, and the Senate memo contains an estimate that “60-70 percent of packaged grocery products contain some GMO ingredients.”

Bernhardt said that eating organic foods is “definitely the way to go if you can.” She avoids boxed foods with long lists of ingredients.

“GMOs have been tied to the creation of new allergies, the inflated use of herbicides and have increasingly permeated the agricultural landscape over the last two decades,” a NYPIRG press release states.

Those are among the environmental impacts of GMOs, which are also criticized for impacting global biodiversity, as many farms now grow monocultures of engineered crops.

Many shoppers said they do not live in the area, and one man rebuffed Himmelman, arguing that requiring a label would just be another burdensome regulation on businesses.

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