As the food fight over the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) stalls in Congress, state-level GMO mandates are gaining steam. At least 30 states have introduced some type of legislation in recent years, including three states—Connecticut, Maine and Vermont—that have actually passed GMO labeling mandates.
With the food transparency movement escalating nationwide, there are at least eight states to keep on our radar, according to Politico's Morning Agriculture blog.
64 other countries around the world and 89 percent of Americans voters are in support of it. Photo credit: Flickr
1. New York
Legislators have introduced nearly 70 bills since 2011 related to GMOs. The bills cover everything from the labeling of vaccines containing GMOs to prohibiting the sale of GMO salmon to the labeling food and seeds.
Last week, lawmakers debated a bill that would free the state from its 2014 law that requires four contiguous states—Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut—to also enact label laws before triggering their own.
“We want to remove the contingencies to free Maine to act on its own,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town) told the Bangor Daily News. “Consumers have the right to choose. I don’t feel it will have a huge impact on how people shop.”
The bill was tabled and will resurface in a work session later this legislative session.
A bill was introduced last September that would require that all foods sold in the state containing GMOs be clearly labeled. According to MA Right to Know, 155 out of 200 state legislators, including 126 from the House of Representatives and 29 from the Senate have signed on as co-sponsors to the labeling bill in 2015. The bill is currently sitting with the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
4. Rhode Island
Lawmakers are considering at least three bills that would require GMO foods to be labeled. Politico reports that the first bill requires all food businesses with more than $500,000 of gross sales to post signs informing consumers of GMO food products unless it is already labeled. The second measure requires milk and milk products from genetically engineered animals or that contain a GMO ingredient to carry a label. The third measure would require all GMO products be labeled by Jan. 1, 2017.
Following years of grassroots campaigning, state Senator Maria Sachs and state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda have introduced three GMO labeling bills in Florida: Senate bills SB 1700 and SB 1708, and House bill HB 1369, Natural Society reported. The bills require labeling of GMO foods and raw agricultural commodities, and require the state to provide lists of raw agricultural commodities at high risk or potentially at risk for cultivation in a genetically engineered form. The two have campaigned heavily for GMO labeling for the past three years. Here's a video of Senator Sachs at an anti-Monsanto rally in Miami in March 2013.
The state already requires the labeling of GMO salmon, and now the state is weighing a measure that would ban the sale of any GMO fish or fish product in the state and another resolution that would disapprove of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of AquAdvantage salmon, Politico reported. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski has long been vehemently opposed the FDA's controversial decision and recently threatened to block the appointment of the next FDA commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf, because of it.
Two bills related to labeling genetically engineered foods have been introduced in the Missouri legislature. The first requires the labeling of GMO foods. The second calls for the use of science-based data to assess and regulate of modern agricultural technologies. Right to Know Missouri cited a poll taken in Missouri that indicated 91.1 percent of people supported enacting a GMO labeling law.
8. New Jersey
The bill to label genetically engineered foods would require products to be labeled six months following enactment of the measure. The state Senate is set to consider this legislation.
In 2014, Connecticut and Maine became the first two states to require GMO labels but their rules will only kick in after other states enact similar laws. Vermont, however, set a precedent with the passage of the first-ever no strings attached labeling mandate that's set to go into effect this July—that is, unless Big Food stops it.
As EcoWatch exclusively reported in October, the Grocery Manufacturers Association—which represents more than 300 food and beverage titans such as ConAgra, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg and Hershey—has spent millions and lobbied heavily to nullify or preempt state labeling laws. A spokesperson told us that the association “supports a uniform national standard for GMO labeling ... not a patchwork of different state labeling mandates that are confusing and costly to consumers.”
In a blow to the industry, however, Congress voted in December to not include a policy rider in the federal omnibus spending bill that would have blocked states from implementing mandatory GMO labeling laws.
Following the decision, Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held a closed-door meeting earlier this month with food industry honchos and GMO labeling advocates to hammer out a compromise.
Few details have emerged from the meeting but it appears that Big Food's proposal of a "Smart Label," which consists of a scannable QR code, has been shunned by opponents.
Politico reported Thursday that Tara Cook-Littman, founder of GMO-Free Connecticut, says she and four other advocates "stood strong and united for mandatory, on package GMO labeling."
"We are thankful to Secretary Vilsack for the time he spent with us, but in the end, there was not enough common ground to emerge from that room with a GMO Labeling proposal agreed upon by leaders from both camps," Cook-Littman wrote in a blog post on the website of Citizens for GMO Labeling.
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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