LABEL GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS:
Testimony of the Organic Trade Association to the Joint Committee on Commerce and Labor of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Submitted by Tom Hutcheson,
Associate Policy Director
May 23, 2001
Thank you very much for this opportunity. I am the policy coordinator for the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the only industry-wide trade association for the organic industry in the US. OTA is based in Greenfield, in the Connecticut River Valley, behind the Franklin County Fairgrounds. Annual retail sales of organic products in the US are over 7½ billion dollars and have grown about 20% per year for the past decade. Over 50 of OTA’s 1200 members are located in Massachusetts. I am also submitting background information, including related industry information and industry comments on related federal notices.
The Organic Trade Association is strongly in favor of the truthful, clear, and non-misleading labeling of genetically modified foods and their products, which this bill would do. States can take the lead on this issue, as the federal government has so far not been responsive to the will of either consumers or the organic industry. First the organic community, and now the federal government, prohibit the use of genetically modified foods and their products in organic production. According to the National Organic Standards Board, genetic modification is considered a synthetic process, which would require specific approval to be allowed. This approval would have to demonstrate that genetic engineering was compatible with organic production. The organic community’s 275,000 responses to USDA’s first proposed rule for organic production were unanimous in declaring genetic engineering incompatible with organic production. The presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or their products in organic products is considered contamination, and even the unintended presence of GMOs can lead to decertification of the product as organic and subsequent financial losses.
The main reason the Organic Trade Association supports labeling is that organic producers must by law ensure that their products have not been produced using GMOs. Without labeling, the only way to provide a guarantee is to solicit affidavits throughout the supply chain, a cumbersome process which adds a burden to many food and ingredient producers. Exporters to foreign markets in which GMOs are prohibited or restricted are also burdened with testing for the presence of material they never wanted.
Labeling would require producers of GMOs to act responsibly and lessen the total burden.
Leaving aside the arguments for and against the general prohibition or restriction of GMOs, this problem of the presence of unwanted material could easily be solved by the requirement that genetically modified foods and their products be labeled. It is a particular problem for organic producers but, due to global concern, is also shared by all exporters. For example, I believe that China has recently required labeling of genetically engineered foods. Contamination with GMOs is a heavy burden. Please help the organic industry and all exporters give their customers what they choose—the ability to avoid GMO foods and their products—by passing this bill.
Thank you very much.