Assembly Panel OKs Stender & Eustace Bill Letting Consumers Decide If They Want to Purchase Genetically Engineered Foods

Legislation Assembly Democrats Linda Stender and Tim Eustace sponsored to improve consumer knowledge by requiring the labeling of all foods that contain genetically engineered material was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-1359) 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 Stender (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset). “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 Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “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.

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. The New Jersey Department of Health would be responsible for administering and enforcing the bill’s provisions.

This bill would go into effect 18 months following enactment.

The bill was released by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee, chaired by Stender.