Assembly Panel Advances Genetically-Engineered Food Labeling Bill

TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee released a bill on Monday that would require all foods to be labeled if they contain genetically engineered material.

The bill (A-3192) would require that any genetically engineered food product that is offered for sale in the state must have a label indicating that the food contains genetically modified material.

“The purpose of this bill is very simple – enable consumers in the state to make knowledgeable decisions about food consumption,” said Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset), one of the bill’s sponsors. “Many people have concerns about the health and environmental impacts of genetically engineered food, especially given the fact that no long-term studies have been conducted. Ordinary Americans should not be forced to act as human guinea pigs for a real time study on the long-term health impact of these engineered foods. This bill embraces the idea that an informed consumer is the best consumer.”

“Consumer knowledge is always a good thing,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic), who also sponsored the bill. “Those who have concerns about genetically engineered food will be able to make an informed choice, and those who don’t have concerns will not be impacted. It’s the best approach for everyone, and a simple solution.”

The sponsors noted that genetically engineered foods injected with DNA strains from herbicides or pesticides have proliferated since the mid-1990s. In many cases, the technique often involves inserting experimental, viral, bacterial, insect, plant or animal genes into the existing gene structure to add a specific trait, such as making them resistant to herbicides.

Under the bill, “genetically engineered” is defined as any substance that has been produced, enhanced or otherwise modified through the use of recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid technology, genetic engineering or bioengineering.

A food product is considered to be a genetically engineered food product if it contains more than .9 percent of genetically engineered material, as determined in accordance with the standards of measurement and quantification procedures established by the Department of Health and Senior Services.

The failure to label a genetically modified food product would constitute misbranding in violation of pre-existing food and drug labeling law, except that there would be a penalty of $200 for a first offense, $400 for a second offense and $1,000 for any third or subsequent offense. DHSS would be responsible for administering and enforcing the bill’s provisions.

This bill would go into effect 18 months following enactment.

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