In December, the Los Angeles City Council’s Arts, Parks, Health, aging and River Committee decided it needed more information before enacting any kind of local ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in local seeds and crops. Because of a new state law, it will now be even tougher to enact any kind of regulating ordinance.
“The key is that it would have needed to be voted on in that [committee] meeting,” Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, said. “Most council members were offering stalling suggestions.”
California State Assembly Bill 2470 has language that requires the input of the state’s secretary of food and agriculture — essentially trumping any possible city regulations.
Previously in October, the city council had voted almost unanimously (Councilman Joe Buscaino, 15th District, dissented) to draft a GMO ban ordinance. In the committee meeting, however, council members were more cautious about moving forward.
“I met several times with advocates for the GMOs, and when it came back to committee, there were some questions that I didn’t get answered,” Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, said. “I had positive meetings with the advocates [for banning GMOs] some months ago, but as it got closer I felt they were racing so fast, and I thought there was more that needed looking at.”
During the committee meeting, Buscaino questioned the value of the city intervening on the subject.
“We’re crafting policy without any substance,” he said. “I’m against GMOs, but feel the city of Los Angeles is not the appropriate level of government to regulate this. We’re not the seed police. Let’s lean on the state and federal government to do the regulations and enforcements.”
The ban was going to be mostly symbolic, because there is no large-scale farming occurring in the city of Los Angeles — but Koretz said it was important to act now, regardless.
“There are many questions about the long-term health and safety of GMOs,” he said. “Many have tiny amounts of pesticide ingrained in them and that strikes me as potentially dangerous. Why are we having such high rates of cancer? Why is autism growing in leaps and bounds? We just don’t know. Whether it is 5 years or 50 years down the road, I suspect we will find that these GMOs have not been positive for our health.”
Koretz and proponents of a ban have also noted their concerns that GMO seeds can often be blown into other farms that are not using them, contaminating those farms.
Biotechnology Industry Organization, a company in favor of GMOs, had lobbyist George Kieffer speak on its behalf during the committee meeting.
“I’m glad you’re going to take another look at this because when you do you will learn a lot about the entities before you,” he said. “The city is the wrong entity to make this determination, especially a whole ban.”
Kieffer and other pro-GMO speakers noted the lack of conclusive scientific study on GMOs, and he argued that some lesser GMO-breeding has been going on for years to great effect.
Kieffer noted that there was no concrete staff report to go along with the ordinance, and that it appeared to be rushed for the sake of beating the state law.
“I feel this is another feel-good ordinance that lacks substance,” Buscaino said.
Despite the delay in committee, Koretz said that he would not be deterred and that this issue was not dead in the Los Angeles City Council.
“I think we now do what the committee asked,” he said. “We make sure whatever they asked for as far as studies is provided and we do more education than we thought was initially necessary. Then we bring it back to committee and hope it passes. If it passes, then we deal with the legal ramifications.”
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