By: Angel Jennings

Citing environmental and health concerns, a panel of Los Angeles lawmakers Monday threw their support behind a citywide ban on growing genetically modified crops.

The ban would be "largely symbolic," said Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who co-authored the proposal, because there's limited agriculture in the city. But it would send a "clear signal that in Los Angeles we want to return to GMO-free food," he said in an interview.

The proposal by O'Farrell and Councilman Paul Koretz seeks to ban the sale and planting of genetically modified crop seeds, in addition to the sale of genetically modified fruit trees and plants. A City Council committee agreed to draft an ordinance imposing the ban. The full council will consider the matter Tuesday. 

Genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, are plants or animals whose genetic material has been altered. Unlike crops grown through selective breeding to be bigger or firmer, the DNA of GMOs has been altered in a laboratory. 

Opponents of GMOs say they pose a threat to biodiversity and may be unsafe for consumption.

Gladys Limon, a staff attorney with Communities for a Better Environment, said some GMOs are altered to be resistant to pesticides, which allows larger amounts of pesticides to be sprayed on crops. That has "direct and even deadly effect on human health," she said.

Vermont lawmakers recently enacted a requirement that GMO foods be labeled. Oregon voters will consider a similar measure in November. 

In 2012, an unsuccessful California ballot measure sought to require labeling of GMO foods. Supporters of the L.A. ban note 52% of Los Angeles County voters supported Proposition 37. Nearly 50 community organizations, business owners and city residents submitted letters to city lawmakers supporting the ban.

No one at Monday's meeting spoke against the city's proposed ban. Opponents of GMO regulations say that genetically modified crops are no different from those that farmers have been selectively breeding for centuries, and they pose no added health risk. They also say that genetically modifying organisms increases their yield and hardiness, and has the potential to alleviate food shortages around the world.

O'Farrell said the ban is important because urban farming is becoming more popular in the region. Two L.A. councilmen introduced a motion this month that calls for landowners to receive tax breaks for turning empty lots into urban farms.

Originally Published: LA Times