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NYSNYS NEWS: Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry's ice cream lobbies Albany for GMO label bill. Farm group says change would raise annual food bill for family of four by $500.
NYSNYS NEWS: Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry's ice cream lobbies Albany for GMO label bill. Farm group says change would raise annual food bill for family of four by $500.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 28) Ben and Jerry's very own Jerry Greenfield rallied supporters Tuesday then scooped ice cream at the Capitol to support a bill requiring mandatory labeling of food containing GMOs, genetically modified organisms.

"The big food industry says that it's too difficult, too complicated, too expensive to do labeling," Greenfield said, his voice rising to a shout. "Well, I am here to tell you as a person in a company that has done this that it is not to hard, it is not too complicated, and it costs literally nothing."

"Food companies are changing their labels and packaging all the time, whether its different ingredients, whether it's new marketing claims, and it's just something that's in the normal course of business. Ben and Jerry's has done, other food companies have done and there's no reason why other companies can't put a simple little label on their packaging saying what's in their products."

Greenfield, who lives near Burlington, Vermont, traveled to Albany to rally in support of the labeling bill, similar to a new GMO law that has taken effect in his home state. Greenfield founded the hippie-vibe business in Vermont with partner Ben Cohen in 1978, later selling it to international corporate giant Unilever. He said he remains as an employee of the multinational dairy business, and posed for pictures and supervised ice cream scooping from a Ben and Jerry's cart outside the Capitol after Tuesday's rally.

The labeling bill has the backing of environmental groups, but is opposed by the Farm Bureau and the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance who say it would create a $500 a year increase in the average family's price of food in New York.

"This is a serious issue with regard to food costs in New York state," said NEAFA executive director Rick Zimmerman, who watched the rally inside the Capitol. "There's very credible research that will demonstrate why food costs will go up on an average of $500 per year for a family of four."

With the number of "food insecure" people in New York dependent on food banks, "how can we be talking about legislation that is going to drive up food costs. That just doesn't make sense."

He said the higher costs will be driven by several different factors, and any labels will "be confusing. It's going to disparage the project because people won't really understand what that label means. So they will have a perspective that that label on that product means that product is an inferior product. Which is absolutely false, but that is the perception."

"So there will be tremendous pressure to avoid putting that label on a product, which will create a cascade of work to source ingredients that are not genetically engineered farmers will be putting more pesticides on crops because they cannot use genetically engineered crops anymore. Does that make any sense?"

He said environmentalists were hypocritical for opposing GMOs, since they reduce pesticide use and demand for water to grow crops, and help yield a bigger harvest to "feed a world that's going to grow to 9 billion people by 2050."

The bill now pending before the Legislature has the support of NYPIRG, Common Cause, the Consumer Union and organic farming groups.

"New Yorkers deserve the right to know," said Caitlin Pixley of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "No more dining in the dark label GMOs today."

"This is an issue that affects everyone in our society," said Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Suffolk County), the Senate sponsor of the bill. "It can't be about money and profits. It's got to be about human beings. We count."