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Legislator leaps into 'Frankenfood' debate

If it passes, it would be the first in the nation.

Earlier today, State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery/Delaware) announced the introduction of legislation that would require foods that contain genetically-engineered components to be labeled as such.

He said the bill has already received support from national and local organizations and individuals including food cooperatives, organic farmers, environmentalists and food justice proponents.

"I've introduced this bill not to ban genetically engineered foods, but to allow consumers to choose which items they purchase. I am concerned about the lack of information available about the presence of genetically engineered food, and I believe it is every consumer's right to know what ingredients are found in the products they buy," Leach said in a press release.

Many refer to genetically-modified food products as "Frankenfood," although the industry says the technology is beneficial.

If the legislation passes, it would be the first in the nation. A similar California bill, Proposition 37, failed in California in last November's election.  Some 53 percent of voters voted against the labeling law, and 47 percent voted for it.

The Los Angeles Times reported at the time that the measure "fell victim to a mediat blitz bankrolled by $46 million in campaign contributions from big biotech companies, including Monsanto Co., grocery manufacturers and agricultural firms." The campaign supporting the measure spent $9 million.

Although the measure failed, its supporters claimed a partial victory because, they said, they drew significant attention to the issue.

Supporters of labeling say consumers deserve to know what's in their food, just as current labels specify amounts of nutrients, salt, carbohydrates, fats and other ingredients. However, many supporters of labeling also oppose genetically-engineered foods, saying it is an unproven technology that could harm people.

Opponents of the California measure said that it was expensive and bureaucratic. Opponents also have said that labeling food that has genetically-engineers components suggests that GE foods are harmful, which the GE industry says is not the case.

The industry says GE technology has the promise to increase food production and help adapt food production to climate change, developing corn that needs less fertilizer and rice that needs less water, for instance.

According to the Center for Food Safety, up to 85 percent of corn, 91 percent of soy beans and 95 percent of sugar beets in the United States are made with genetically modified organisms, Leach noted. Additionally, up to 70 percent of processed foods found in grocery stores have been genetically modified.

Leach's announcement come in the wake of a decision by Whole Foods to require its suppliers label all GE foods in its stores by 2018.

Joining Leach at a press conference today were  Sam Bernhardt, Pennsylvania Organizer, Food & Water Watch;  Karen Stark, GMO-Free PA;  Brian Snyder, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture; Jon McGoran, Communications Director, Weavers Way Food Cooperative;  Roman Stoltzfoos, Organic Farmer, Spring Wood Dairy;   Rebecca Frimmer, General Manager, Greensgrow Farm;  Maria Payans, Executive Director, Peachbottom Concerned Citizens Group.