People saying they are concerned about the health and environmental implications of food made with genetically modified organisms gathered Saturday afternoon in Center City for a rally and march calling for mandatory labeling of "GMO foods."
Philadelphia's "March Against Monsanto" was one of hundreds taking place Saturday in cities around the world, a coordinated effort to bring attention to genetically engineered foods and to criticize Monsanto, the multinational agricultural company that has been a leader in producing genetically modified seed to farmers.
A Pennsylvania lawmaker also said Saturday that he plans to reintroduce a bill to require labeling genetically modified foods.
Monsanto said it respects others' points of view but opposes mandatory labeling of genetically modified crops and food products made with them. Several scientific organizations have also opposed such labeling, saying it could be confusing to consumers without scientific evidence of risk.
But for the people gathered on the sun-drenched plaza outside the Municipal Services Building by City Hall, uncertainty about how food is created and grown, coupled with personal experiences and beliefs, meant calling for more information.
"There's not enough transparency about it. There's too much money involved," said Mark Bilinski, 47, of Gladwyne, who was writing a "Just say no to GMO" sign on orange poster board.
As his 4-year-old daughter, Abigail, stood next to him in a homemade bee costume, Bilinski said he wanted to know what foods had genetically modified ingredients so he could avoid them.
"We want to just be aware of what we put into our bodies," said Bilinski, a father of six who attended the demonstration with his wife and two of his daughters. "I'm not here to tell anybody else what to do. I just want the choice. I want to know what I'm putting into my body, and that's all. People want to eat what they want to eat."
Monsanto released a statement Saturday welcoming dialogue and saying it is proud of the work it does.
"We know people have different points of view on these topics, and it's important that they're able to express and share them," the statement said.
In Philadelphia, that meant a crowd - estimated by police at 400 people - gathering from noon to 3 p.m. and then setting off south down 15th Street.
Several scientific and medical groups have opposed the mandatory labeling of genetically modified crops.
The American Medical Association policy, updated in June 2012, states that as of that time "there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education."
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington-based nonprofit organization that publishes the journal Science, published a statement in October 2012 criticizing efforts to require labeling of genetically modified foods and their derivatives:
"These efforts are not drive-by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous," the organization's board of directors wrote in the statement.
But attendees at Saturday's event said they would rather educate and make choices themselves. Rather than being potentially misled by labels, they said, they already feel misled by the lack of information.
"If they're so proud of their food, then why don't they put a label on?" said Jess Brozosky, 26, an artist and stay-at-home mother from Mount Ephraim who lives in West Philadelphia.
In Pennsylvania, one lawmaker said he was preparing to reintroduce legislation to label genetically engineered foods and their derivatives.
"It's very simple," State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) said in an interview Saturday morning. "People should have a right to know what's in the food that they're eating and they're feeding to their families."
A bill Leach sponsored in the 2013-14 legislative session would have mandated the words "produced with genetic engineering" or "partially produced with genetic engineering" to be placed "clearly and conspicuously on the front of the label of the processed food."
That bill, which had 14 other sponsors in the state Senate, did not advance out of committee. A corresponding bill in the House had 60 sponsors.