“They are working this very hard and they are not going to let up because of the threat,” said Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which supports the food-labeling bill.
A genetically modified organism, or GMO, has had genetic material altered by scientists to produce a desirable trait. Examples include tomatoes altered to stay fresher longer, and strawberries altered so they can be frozen. Many of the oils and grains used in processed foods have GMOs.
A NYPIRG study found that opponents of the legislation spent nearly $3.7 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in 2013 — outspending supporters 7 to 1.
And the money has continued to flow in 2014, according to lobbying reports filed with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
Among the biggest spenders: Coca-Cola, which paid Albany lobbyists $66,668 in the first four months of the year.
Other big spenders included the Farm Bureau ($54,000), Kraft Foods and Monsanto (about $24,000 each) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association ($13,000).
The figures represent total lobbying expenses, but a significant amount of the spending is believed to involve opposing the labeling bill.
Critics of mandatory labeling argue there’s no reliable evidence that GMOs are harmful.
“By the government requiring labels you are effectively telling consumers you have a reason to be concerned,” said Mandy Hagan, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
“The overall perception of consumers is the label is akin to a skull and crossbones,” added Rick Zimmerman, executive director of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance.
Zimmerman said the legislation, if approved, would increase food-handling costs at every level, from the farm to the grocery store.
He cited a recent study by a Cornell University professor showing the average family of four would pay an extra $500 a year in food costs if the bill was approved.
Supporters of labeling scoff at such estimates and insist consumers have a right to know what’s in their food.
“Labels are changed all the time, and the other side is trying to bellyache that it would cost so much,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhatttan), one of the bill’s sponsors. “The fact is, consumers want to know.”
Despite Rosenthal's efforts, the legislation faces an uphill struggle this year.
"It probably will not get done this session," said a source close to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). "Members still have concerns about it."
The bill also faces tough odds in the Senate. With only four days left in the legislative session, it remains mired in the Consumer Protection Committee.
Gov. Cuomo, according to a spokesman, has not taken a position on it.
Similar labeling legislation has been introduced in more than 20 states. Vermont, last month, became the first state to enact a labeling requirement, giving stores and manufacturers until July of 2016 to comply. Opponents have filed a lawsuit to overturn it.
Two other states, Maine and Connecticut, have passed food labeling bills with triggers that prevent them from taking effect unless other states in the region pass similar laws.
Originally Published: NY Daily News