Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lakeport labeling resolution

Board puts off GE food labeling resolution vote; revised document to be brought back
By Elizabeth Larson
Lake County News
27 October 2011

LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday delayed a scheduled vote on a proposed resolution in support of mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods, directing that a revised document be brought back to its next meeting.

Supervisor Denise Rushing had brought the resolution to the board after she said she was approached by a group of citizens.

The resolution asks state and national legislators to enact legislation requiring mandatory labeling for all food ingredients made of genetically engineered – or genetically modified – plants.

Thurston Williams, a member of that group that approached Rushing, told the board, “We’re not here today to ask you to ban genetically engineered plants,” but rather to ask the board to support labeling rules, which he said didn’t require them to agree on the use of GE.

Williams said the United States is the only industrialized country outside of Canada that doesn’t require such food labeling.

Upper Lake resident Haji Warf said that as a consumer she’s concerned about the health, environmental and ethical concerns of GE foods. She asserted that the “overwhelming majority” of processed foods on grocery shelves contained genetically engineered materials, “Yet this fact is not revealed.”

She added, “We’re dining in the dark.”

Consumers have a right to choose what they consume, said Warf. “Labeling empowers the buyer.”

Craig Shannon, president of the Lake County Farm Bureau, said the group strongly supports the ability to use biotechnology, which he said is recognized as a private property right. He said it also makes farmers competitive, and they are opposed to any limits.

Shannon said the organization supported the Food and Drug Administration’s voluntary product labeling.

Supervisor Rob Brown said the resolution was generic, and he wanted to know what actions were taking place on the legislative level. Williams said the Center for Food Safety had petitioned the FDA for mandatory labeling.

The Center for Food Safety said it filed the legal petition on Oct. 4 on behalf of the “Just Label It” campaign composed of consumer, environmental, health and farming organizations.

Brown said if food was to be labeled, it should be labeled for everything, not just GE foods.

Williams said food labeling “needs to be uniform and it needs to be science based.”

Brown said he was concerned about people selling products as organic when they’re not. “There should be some truth in labeling all around.”

Cheri Holden of the Sierra Club Lake Group told the board that the Sierra Club’s local, state and national group supported food labeling.

Brown said he wouldn’t support the resolution as presented, but would support labeling all food.

Board Chair Jim Comstock asked county Agricultural Commissioner Steve Hajik to weigh in, but Hajik said he was neutral and couldn’t comment.

Williams said there already were a lot of food labeling laws, and the request was to add GE foods to those laws.

“It’s not that simple,” Brown argued, adding he wanted transparency on all food labeling.

County Environmental Health Director Ray Ruminski, who was at the board meeting for another item, said he had a professional interest in GE foods, which have “a raging controversy” surrounding them. He said it was his understanding that the European Union was rethinking its GE food stances because of being blocked from exporting food to Africa.

Williams disagreed with Ruminski’s comments, telling the board that a 2010 report contradicts what Ruminski said.

“The issue is a consumer’s right to know,” said Williams.

Comstock supported putting the matter off a week to bring back a revised resolution that covered labeling all foods.

A resolution supporting labeling of all foods, said Williams, was not of interest to the group.

Comstock said Williams didn’t know what the new resolution was going to say. Williams responded, “I am suspicious that it will not mention genetically engineered foods.”

Rushing said she believed consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.

Supervisor Jeff Smith said he felt it was worthwhile to change the resolution a little in order to get the entire board’s support.

A revised version of the resolution is set to be discussed at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1.

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