Berkeley City Council considers labeling genetically modified produce

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Berkeley City Council is considering requiring retailers and grocery stores to label genetically modified produce.

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Berkeley City Council has entered the debate over whether to label genetically modified produce, voting Tuesday night to investigate the possibility of instituting such a policy at the city level.

The approved motion directs the city manager and several city commissions to research the possibility of having grocery stores label all of their genetically modified produce — one form of genetically modified organism. Specifically, the city will examine which stores the policy would apply to, how the requirement would be enforced and how produce would be labeled.

“The public deserves to know where their produce comes from,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who sponsored the agenda item. “The labeling requirement would give customers necessary information about produce.”

Yet, according to Michael Eisen, an associate professor in the campus department of molecular and cell biology, there is not much evidence that GMO products are dangerous.

“There is very broad consensus among scientists that (GMO) products are safe (to consume),” Eisen said. “The technology itself is neither safe nor dangerous. It’s just a way to modify crops.”

Though they supported the motion, several council members also voiced concerns about a GMO-labeling policy. According to Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, creating new GMO-labeling requirements could cause an increase in the prices of non-GMO produce and add to the burden of low-income communities that cannot afford these higher prices.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf also expressed concerns about the impact of GMO labeling, specifically on the local mom-and-pop grocery stores in Berkeley.

“I agree that we should all know what we are eating,” Wengraf said. “But the burden should be on the corporations who are doing this in the first place. We shouldn’t be burdening the local grocers.”

Wengraf also believes that action should be taken on the state or federal level, not in Berkeley, where the population is only about 100,000.

Last November, Proposition 37, which would have required California grocery stores and retailers to label genetically engineered foods in their stores, was rejected by a majority of California voters. In Berkeley, however, an overwhelming 74.6 percent of residents voted in favor of the proposition, Arreguin said.

There are 64 countries, as of April, that require GMO labeling, according to the nonprofit organization Center for Food Safety.

Alison Fu covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @alisonfu_.