State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Bill would require labels on foods with GMOs

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 12, 2013 2:46 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

Pennsylvania could follow in the footsteps of Whole Foods if one state lawmaker’s idea to require labels on genetically engineered foods takes root.

The national grocery store chain did something unprecedented in the country recently when it announced will label all products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in its U.S. and Canada stores by 2018.

A state Senate proposal would require the same of food manufacturers and distributors selling products in the commonwealth.

Supporter Jon McGoran, with the Weavers Way Food Cooperative in Philadelphia, said the labeling would help those who have health and nutritional concerns about foods that have been altered using biotechnology, as well as those who question the business of GMOs.

“There’re all sorts of indirect concerns about the GMO industry and, frankly, consumers want to know if they’re supporting that or not,” said McGoran.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says no difference exists between genetically engineered foods and organic foods, but the agency does not require safety studies to be done on genetically engineered foods.

Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) is sponsoring the measure, which he says is an effort to provide consumers with more information, not a bid to prevent the sale of genetically engineered foods.

Leach added that he doesn’t imagine there would be insurmountable challenges on the part of food manufacturers and distributors, should they be required to change the way they label products headed for sale in the commonwealth.

“Historically, once a big consumer [or] an important state – often California but other states – [does] something like this, we see that become the industry standard,” said Leach. “It’s just easier for them to do that across the board than it is to go state by state and ship different products into different states.”

His proposal has just one Republican co-sponsor, but a spokesman for the Senate GOP suggests the caucus is open to the idea, and even sees the change in food labels as inevitable.

“We’re supportive of people having more information as a general rule,” said Erik Arneson, spokesman for the Senate’s majority leader. “We haven’t looked at the specifics of this particular proposal yet but it’s certainly something that conceptually has a lot of appeal and it’s something we’d like to have discussions on.”

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