Genetically Engineered Foods: Right-to-Know Faces Political Calculus

Categories: Fire Ant
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Citizen activists pushing for a state law mandating the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods in Florida remain hopeful. And active. The legislator actually drafting a statute is still onboard. But she's also on the fence.

See also:
-Should Genetically Engineered Food Be Labeled?

Big Food's use of bioscience to transfer genes among species is widespread and controversial. Pervasive among corn, soybeans, and sugar beets, GE makes it way into our diets as cooking oils and other ingredients in prepared foods. Without labeling, consumers are blind to its presence.

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Food and Water Watch, an offshoot of Public Citizen, is the chief national organization advocating GE labeling. In November, facing a tsunami of money and propaganda from corporate interests, their effort to pass a GE labeling referendum in California suffered a narrow defeat.

In Florida, FWW has sandals on the ground statewide and is going the legislative route, drumming up public support to pressure legislators for a GE labeling law. Its senior organizer in Broward, Lynna Kauchek, says the group has been "blown away" by the public response so far, including 8,000 signatures on a petition in the campaign's embryonic stage last fall. The group plans to build on that with a major new push beginning this weekend.

"This is not a partisan issue," Kauchek told New Times. "Everyone eats. Everyone wants to know what they're putting in their bodies."

FWW claims the support of three state reps (all Democrats) so far: Janet Cruz (D-Tampa), Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach) and Michelle Rehwinkle (D-Tallahassee), who is drafting GE labeling legislation.

But drafting a law is one thing; introducing it for a vote is another.

Rehwinkle told New Times the drafting was still in progress, calling it a "fairly simple, straightfoward bill." But she said that, even when completed, she's "not certain" to file the bill. Legislators are limited to a total of six sponsored bills in each session, and Rehwinkle has already reached the limit -- including a measure to eliminate Florida's death penalty.

In an email, Pafford's office stated that if a bill were introduced he would "most likely co-sponsor it, depending upon the finalized bill language." Cruz's office stated she would also co-sponsor.

"There's no question that [GE labeling] is a worthy idea," Rehwinkle said. And she expressed no fear of the inevitable counter-lobbying by Monsanto and others. "The utilities already hate me," she said. "They might as well join the club."

FWW's Florida winter offensive includes rallies and other events beginning Saturday in Tallahassee, Tampa, West Palm Beach, and Broward.

The WPB event, featuring a panel discussion and Q&A with Ken Koleos, of the Florida Food Policy Council, Michelle Parenti Lewis, of Slow Foods Glades to Coast, and others, will be at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre from 1 to 3 p.m; the Broward event's time and place is still uncertain. We'll update with details as more info becomes available. Readers can also call Lynna Kauchek at 586-556-8805.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact fire.ant@browardpalmbeach.com.


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