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WNN WorldFOOD

A USDA image of the HCAR 311 Carica papaya 'Sunset' from Hawaii

A USDA – U.S. Department of Agriculture stock image shows one of the food products that the USDA has been studying and engineering for a new GM – genetically modified papaya in Hawaii. Image: USDA/Wikipedia

(WNN) Augusta, Main, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: Policies in food production transparency is revving up in the United States as the State of Maine is joining one other U.S. state, the State of Connecticut, with legislation requiring food labels that will let grocery shoppers know how many food products they eat have been genetically altered. But the road ahead to new food labeling may be some time away. Five U.S. states must have passed food labeling bills that require public labeling of all GE – Genetically Engineered foods. This is to meet federal requirement rules before the U.S. government and the USDA – U.S. Department of Agriculture moves on a more comprehensive U.S. food labeling policy.

Advocates for GE food labels do feel that confidence is growing for better food labels that can inform consumers.

“The writing is on the wall. As the political power of the food movement continues to grow, big food manufacturers will need to adapt,” says CFS – Center for Food Safety Rebecca Spector.

Food genetics as a science has been gaining strength mostly among large growers who have worked to buy seeds that offer the optimum of grower ease and efficiency, say genetics companies. Monsanto who has worked for decades to develop genetically engineered seeds for farmers is one of the organizations that first developed and brought the new genetically modified Bt Cotton seed to market in 1997.

But others disagree strongly that genetically modified seeds create food for consumers that is considered to be ‘unhealthy’ for consumption.

The issues surrounding Monsanto in India have caused scholars and experts to stand firmly on opposing sides.

Now Monsanto is lobbying to block U.S. State initiatives that are working to install legal mandates to require the labeling all GMFs – Genetically Modified Foods. In 2013 Monsanto Co spent $5,430,000 in lobbying efforts.

We oppose current initiatives to mandate labeling of ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks. Such mandatory labeling could imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts,” says Monsanto in a public online statement.

In the United States the USDA has been actively involved in genetically engineered food products for almost 2 decades. In Hawaii the USDA wing called Agriculture Research Service (ARS) has specifically been working on what they convey more recently are “improvements” to the native papaya crops in the region.

“In laboratories throughout Hawaii, where most of America’s papaya crop is grown, ARS scientists and their university and corporate colleagues are working out a science-based strategy to streamline today’s costly replanting of papaya orchards. Other ARS experts are searching for genes that might boost papaya’s natural resistance to disease and insects,” said the USDA in a 2004 report.

But not everyone has been happy about the genetic changes to papaya crops in Hawaii. Recent a genetic foods restrictions bill has been moving through the Big Island of Hawaii. Honolulu Mayor Billy Kenoi signed Bill 113 into law on December 5, 2013 stating that no biotech companies will be allowed to operate on the Big Island. It also says no more genetically altered food growing will be allowed.

“Our community has a deep connection and respect for our land, and we all understand we must protect our island and preserve our precious natural resources. We are determined to do what is right for the land because this place is unlike any other in the world. With this new ordinance we are conveying that instead of global agribusiness corporations, we want to encourage and support community-based farming and ranching,” said Mayor Kenoi in a December 5, 2013 letter to the Hawaii County Council.

The debate over this bill has at times been divisive and hurtful, and some of our hard-working farmers who produce food for our community have been treated disrespectfully. We are determined to protect every farmer and rancher. Agriculture on Hawai‘i Island will continue to grow with county assistance, investment and support,” added the Mayor who also outlined that the bill will include an in-depth monitor study of both GMO and non GMO foods grown on the Big Island to be made over the next year.

Hawaii’s Island of Kaua’i has also been very active in anti-GMO protests and initiatives that include restrictions on the use of pesticides for ‘gene-altered’ crops the region. A recent court fight between the local government of Kaua’i and the largest chemical pesticide producers in the world is now in process after Kauaʻi Ordinance 960 (formerly known as Bill 2491) was pushed through limiting Kaua’i pesticide use close to schools and hospitals with requirements for disclosure of all pesticide use in the region.

In the past decades U.S. labeling requirements to inform food buyers has fallen behind numerous other countries that do currently require GE labeling. To date 64 countries require some sort of GE labels. Some of the countries that are complying with GE transparency for food labeling include the nations of South Africa, China, U.K., Japan, Australia,  France and countries in the European Union, among others.

Working on the legal side in the push for GE transparency with food labeling, the CFS – Center for Food Safety who is one of the leading groups working to bring informed food labeling to U.S. consumers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture now estimates that up to 70 percent of all food now being sold in the U.S. has been genetically engineered.

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