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May 13, 2014

New York should follow Vermont's lead

By Cary Brunswick
The Daily Star

---- — Now that Vermont has approved a law requiring the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients, it is time for New York state lawmakers to do the same.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill Thursday after state legislators approved it last month. Vermont is the first state in the U.S, to have a non-contingent GMO-labeling law, though it doesn’t take effect for two years.

Connecticut and Maine have labeling laws that require a number of states to pass laws before they take effect.

Ken Cook, president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group (EWG), said “Vermont sent a clear message that it has sided with the 93 percent of Americans who support mandatory labeling, and not the chemical companies who want to keep us in the dark.’’

He added that ``Americans, regardless of whether they live in Vermont or any other state, want and deserve the right to know more about their food.’’

The Vermont law also prevents GMO foods from being labeled with terms such as ``natural’’ or other misleading statements.

Both the Assembly and Senate in New York have bills pending that would require the labeling of genetically engineered seed, stock and food for retail sale in the state. The bills were introduced last year but didn’t go anywhere, so sponsors reintroduced them this year.

The group GMO Free NY has launched a petition drive accessible through its website, www.gmofreeny.net. When complete, the petition will be forwarded to state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Opponents of labeling laws, primarily the biotech industry and grocery trade groups, insist GMO foods are safe and therefore products do not need to be labeled. But there has been no scientific consensus on safety, so labeling would provide consumers with the facts to make educated decisions on food purchases.

Vermont anticipates those labeling foes to take the new law to court in attempts to overturn it, so the state has set up a special food fund to pay for its defense. The legal outcome will be watched closely by those states still sitting on the fence.

Yet another dire climate report was released last week, and there are so many studies out there now that you have to wonder if enough people and lawmakers are paying attention.

And then there are the fools, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell, who continue to deny the facts and see the warnings as a liberal conspiracy.

The update to the government’s National Climate Assessment released last week is billed as the national scientific community’s position on the clear, present and future effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Naturally, the report paints another bleak picture.

Because of global warming over the past century, the U.S. is experiencing regional water scarcity, increasing torrential rains, more heat waves, worsening wildfires and the deaths of forests from invasive insect species.

Unfortunately, while most people acknowledge that climate change is occurring with negative impacts, polls indicate that they feel personally insulated from those effects and helpless to do anything about the causes.

A Gallup poll in March found that only a third of respondents thought that global warming posed a “serious threat” to their lifestyles, out of the 60 percent who actually believed it was occurring now.

Reacting to the report’s call for immediate action before it’s too late, McConnell “mocked what he described as the hypocritical stance of ‘liberal elites’ who demand strong action on climate change while failing to reduce their own carbon footprint,’’ according to CNN.

“Even if we were to enact the kind of national energy regulations the president seems to want so badly,’’ McConnell continued in arguing against government proposals to reduce fossil-fuel pollution, “it would be unlikely to meaningfully impact global emissions anyway unless other major industrial nations do the same thing.”

But at least we have “liberal elites” such as Sen. Bernie Sanders who realize that our continued “refusal to recognize and deal with the crisis could have catastrophic consequences.”

Referring to McConnell types, Sanders said it was “no longer acceptable for a majority in Congress to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence. It is no longer acceptable that coal and oil companies spend millions of dollars to defeat efforts to protect the planet.”

Let’s hope this latest report helps provide a wake-up call to enough lawmakers and industrial polluters that their continuing denial of climate change’s impact could have devastating results. In fact, their denials are significantly hastening those results.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.