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Congress Keeps Anti-GMO Labeling Rider Out of Spending Bill

Food
Congress Keeps Anti-GMO Labeling Rider Out of Spending Bill

Center for Food Safety today praised Congress for not including a policy rider in the must-pass federal omnibus spending bill that would have blocked states from implementing mandatory genetically engineered (GE) food labeling laws. Three states—Connecticut, Maine and Vermont—have passed such laws, with Vermont’s slated be to be the first to go into effect in July 2016. All three democratically passed laws would have been nullified, while any future state GE labeling legislation would have been preempted. More than 30 states have introduced bills to labeling GE foods in just the past few years.

“We are very pleased that Congress has apparently decided not to undermine Americans’ right to know about the food they purchase and feed their families,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “Adding a rider to the budget bill that would nullify state laws requiring labeling and even forbidden federal agencies from mandating labeling would have been profoundly undemocratic and nothing short of legislative malfeasance. We will remain vigilant over the coming days and into the next legislative session to ensure our right to know is protected.”

The omnibus spending bill does include language previously agreed to by the Senate Appropriations Committee requiring that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) develop guidelines for mandatory labeling of GE salmon and prevent its sale until such labeling is in effect.

In July, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1599, dubbed by opponents the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act,” which preempts state and local authority to label and regulate GE foods. Instead, the bill sought to codify a voluntary labeling system approach, block FDA from ever implementing mandatory GE food labeling and allow food companies to continue to make misleading “natural” claims for foods that contain GE ingredients. The Senate chose not to take up that bill, despite heavy pressure from the food and biotechnology industries.

Anti-labeling interests then began pushing for the inclusion of the preemption rider in the must pass spending bill. Numerous Senators vocally opposed the inclusion of the preemption rider, successfully keeping it out of the bill. In particular, Senators Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Markey (D-Mass.), Sanders (D-Vt.), Leahy (D-Vt.), Reed (D-R.I.), Heinrich (D-N.M.), Warren (D-Mass.), Tester (D-Mont.), Merkley (D-Ore.), Boxer (D-Calif.) and Booker (D-N.J.) led a Dear Colleague letter opposing the rider. Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairperson Mikulski (D-Md.) also worked to keep the rider out.

“In the absence of federal leadership, states have led the way by passing legislation intended to prevent consumer deception and give consumers the right to know,” said Kimbrell. “We thank those Members of Congress, as well as the thousands of Americans who contacted their Senators recently, for preventing this grossly unethical rider from seeing daylight.”

By an overwhelming margin, American voters say consumers should have the right to know if their food is genetically modified, with 89 percent in support of mandatory GE labeling, according to a new national poll. Nearly the same number of consumers would like to see the labels in an easy to read format.

Center for Food Safety supports bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Boxer and Rep. DeFazio called the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require that food manufacturers label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. This common sense bill would guarantee all Americans the right to know what is in their foods while respecting the need by companies for a uniform, federal standard.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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