Polis should address environmental and health issues in GMO legislation

Coloradans concerned about the quality and safety of their food have to be disappointed by state House Democrats. Last week, they killed in committee a bill to require labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and genetically engineered (GE) food and feed crops sold in Colorado.

As defined by the Huffington Post, “A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Since this involves the transfer of genes, GMOs are also known as “transgenic” organisms.”

When agri-businesses do something that gives their products an edge in nutritional values, health benefits, taste or any other marketable quality, they build advertising campaigns to tell the world of their remarkably improved products.

What does it say then, when the agriculture and food manufacturing corporations conspire with our own government to keep secret an entire category of genetic engineering to modify our food chain in potentially dangerous ways?

That question brought Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, “before a large crowd of Boulderites clamoring for healthier foods” at Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder last week.

It might seem that genetically modifying organisms or genetically engineering food crops to increase the size of farmed fish or to grow vegetables with genetically implanted insecticide-producing bacteria or Round-up ready grains contaminated with glyphosate would be something to sell if it improved the product for consumers.

“The fact they would want to hide this information only raises more concerns,” Polis said.

Since more than 50 other countries, including the entire European Union, do require GMO or GE labeling, it would seem reasonable for American consumers to receive the same level of protection against foreign genes inserted into common food crops.

As Move-on.com complained in a petition to the Colorado Legislature, “Genetically engineered food is unlabeled, untested, and virtually everywhere. This means that consumers have no idea whether or not the food they are buying is genetically engineered. Furthermore, there have been no long-term studies done to test for potentially harmful effects on humans. Consumers have a right to know if the food they are consuming is genetically engineered and safe.”

The problem results from the government making no effort to substantiate industry claims for their genetically engineered products. It simply accepts without further testing industry claims that their modifications pose no problems for those who consume them.

As state House Democrats allowed their bill to require labeling of GE consumer agricultural products sold in Colorado to die in committee, Polis pledged to introduce a similar bill in Congress. But he bluntly assured his audience that he was less than optimistic about any such bill passing any time soon.

As Boulder iJournal reported, Polis acknowledged the tough road ahead.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle to get this passed,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t lay the groundwork or succeed, but it’ll be a really tough fight.”

Alhough polls show Americans overwhelmingly believe foods with altered DNA should be clearly identified, powerful agricultural interests have opposed labeling. Last year, Dupont, Monsanto and Pepsi spent $46 million in California to defeat a similar labeling law. Their ads claimed passing the bill would raise family grocery bills and shrink income for farmers.

However, Polis points out, the law could benefit businesses and Colorado farmers because American products would be properly labeled for export to nations that require GMO labeling.

For Polis, the labeling process seems little more than a formality. “This bill is not about the health or environmental impacts of GMOs, which are important discussions, but rather it’s about consumer freedom and choice,” Polis told the Boulder crowd.

Choices do have consequences. Unless those consequences are known, including potential dangers as well as benefits, it is impossible for consumers to make informed choices.

Polis will take an important first step when he files his bill. His second should be a full public hearing on the potential consequences of unregulated genetic modification of the plant and animal life we depend upon for our health and physical well-being.

Then ask Colorado consumers for their opinion of GMOs.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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