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New York could be key state in GMO labeling debate

Robert S. Donovan
Corn is one of the most common genetically modified crops.

New York state is shaping up to be a key decider in the debate over labeling foods that contain genetically modified ingredients as a labeling law is becoming one of the final debates of the state legislative session.

A bill requiring foods to be marked as scientifically engineered is under debate in the state Legislature, after being approved by an Assembly committee.

Common genetically modified foods, known as GMO, include corn, soy, and canola. Crops are altered to improve yield or be more resistant to drought and disease.

Farmers argue engineered crops are safe, which research supports. They also say labeling laws would raise food prices. But food safety advocates say they have a right to know what they’re eating.

Margaret Smith, a plant genetics expert at Cornell University, says developing a labeling system is complicated as GMO ingredients can be hard to trace.

"So you do have to ask, what are we labeling? What we’re really labeling is a part of the process that was used to develop that food product," she said.

Foods labeled organic are required to not use GMO, but Smith says knowing how a product was produced is more complicated than just a label.

"There’s going to be no measurable difference for most of them from the same food products made with the ingredient from a non-genetically modified plant," she said.

Neighboring Vermont has passed a labeling law. And smaller Connecticut and Maine both have them, but theirs only kick in if another state enacts a law.

The agriculture industry has spent millions lobbying legislators over the proposal, according to government watchdog New York Public Interest Research Group.

No vote on the bill has been set, but this is the final week of the session.