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Pa. House holds information session on GMO labeling bill
By DOROTHY NOBLE
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Oct. 14, 2014) — The Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives held an introduction to genetically modified organisms meeting on Oct. 6.
Introduced by Rep. Peter Daley, D-Donora on Oct. 17, 2013 as HB 1770, the rule would require any food, seed or seed stock for sale in Pennsylvania that is entirely or partially genetically engineered to be labeled with the clear and conspicuous words “Produced with Genetic Engineering.”
The bill was referred to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee and a vote has not been scheduled.
Committee chairman Rep. John Maher, R–Upper St. Clair, said the meeting was to gather information about GMOs in food. He explained that many people do not understand the meaning of the term, and that the esteemed panel of scientists at the Oct. 6 meeting would provide educational information regarding the attributes of GMOs. Rep. Maher added that a meeting on the public policy of GMOs will follow.
Dr. Troy Ott, a professor of reproductive physiology at Penn State, was the first of seven speakers. Ott said that population projections underscore the need to produce more food with fewer resources and less impact on the environment.
However, the good agricultural land on the planet is already in production, and 70 percent of the fresh water is in use.
Ott illustrated his presentation with examples of selective mating. The pig, for instance, today contains substantially more muscle than fat. But the selection process that results in such improvements is both time consuming and imprecise. Many failures occur and some offspring have undesirable traits.
Genetic engineering employs proteins found in the natural world, Ott noted. Further, the genetic sequence can be modified with genetic engineering and therefore generate faster breeding with more precision.
Ott summarized concerns about GMO as fear of the unknown, loss of control, belief that it is not natural, and that GMO would negatively affect one’s livelihood.
Although genetically engineered farm animals have been demonstrated, none have been approved for commercial production.
Texas A & M has produced goats with a malaria vaccine in their milk. UC Davis has a goat that combats children’s diarrhea. A chicken with avian flu resistance has been bred.
The enviroPig produces manure with less phosphorus — thus at least partially alleviating the pressure on the Chesapeake Bay, Ott said.
Ott cited the situation regarding the AquaAdvantage salmon, which grows two to four times faster. It cleared all regulatory hurdles for approval two years ago but government regulators have failed to issue an approval. The process has taken more than 17 years and about $70 million.
Referring to the loss to U.S. consumers, Ott said, “If this is not approved, there is damage for a generation.”
Ott reported that every major scientific organization has said there is nothing unhealthy about genetically engineered foods. There is however, bad science, as he phrased it, which uses sensational headlines, no control group, cherry-picked results, and correlated causation.
With respect to the latter, Ott said it is a fallacy to correlate autism with GMO food sales and conclude that autism is caused by GMOs. Causation cannot be inferred from correlation.
In response to Chairman Maher’s question regarding his opinion on labeling, Ott pointed out that genetic engineering on a label tells him nothing about the product or its safety. Explaining the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling requirements, Ott said that labels provide information to the consumer but not about safety.
Ott’s conclusion about genetically engineered food stated, “Each needs to be evaluated individually for benefits and risks and the regulatory path must be clear and science based. GMOs are not the only solution for a growing population sustainably but they are an essential tool. The fact that GMO is on a label tells us nothing about risks and benefits.”