Hawaii should require labeling of GMO foods

(Published in the Honolulu-Star Advertiser April 22, 2012) -- As Americans, we value the basic right to choose from a wide variety of foods in the marketplace, to make informed choices as to what we feed ourselves and our families.

Presently this right is being denied to the more than 90 percent of Americans who want to know if a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Why? Because our government does not require these products to be labeled.

As a result, Americans are eating GMO foods without informed consent, despite the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires no independent safety testing of these ingredients.

In fact, documents uncovered in litigation show that FDA scientists believe that GMO foods could pose serious risks and need stringent testing, but they were overruled by administrative superiors. As a result, the FDA merely has a weak "voluntary consultation" process with biotech crop developers and relies entirely on whatever data the companies choose to disclose. The FDA does not even approve GMO foods as safe, but defers to industry assurances.

The international food safety authority, Codex Alimentarius, ruled last year that labeling is justified to enable tracking of potential adverse health effects triggered by GMO foods. Nearly 50 countries with 40 percent of the world's population have laws mandating labeling of GMO foods.

The FDA's labeling policy rests on the antiquated doctrine that only changes in food that can be detected by taste, smell or other senses need to be labeled. Since GMO food differences cannot be sensed in this way, the FDA declared that GMO foods are not materially different from conventionally produced foods and no labeling is required.

This policy is entirely inadequate to deal with the changes to food that can be triggered by genetic engineering. Potential hazards presented by GMO foods include the presence of novel toxins, elevated levels of native plant toxins, and reduced nutritional content, though it may take years, even generations, before adverse effects of GMO foods are known with certainty.

Despite industry rhetoric about miracle "supercrops," the vast majority of commercial GMO crops are "super" only in their ability to withstand spraying with potent herbicides — sharply increasing toxic herbicide use and triggering an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds.

Thus, mandatory labeling would also give akamai consumers the ability to choose whether the foods they consume are produced in a sustainable manner.

For more than a decade, federal GMO-labeling legislation has been introduced but has failed to pass. But there's hope. Currently 55 members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, have signed a letter of support to label GMO products.

Hawaii is one of 14 states seeking mandatory labeling of GMO foods — evidence of the unprecedented groundswell of support for labeling across the nation. Hawaii prides itself on leading the nation in efforts to protect the safety of our food and the health of our environment.

We demand that the state Legislature stop listening to corporate lobbyists and instead to the voices and will of its citizens. Anything less is a betrayal of the public's trust and our right to know how our food is produced.

This was signed by Label It Hawaii members: attorney Paul Achitoff; Mark Ferguson, Down to Earth Stores; environmental planner Joseph Farber; state Sen. Mike Gabbard; City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard; Mary Lacques, Hawaii SEED; teacher Mary Oyama; Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte; consultant Dr. Kehau Watson; and Dr. Melissa Yee, Seeds of Truth.

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