Ordinance would favor vendors using organic foods, urge labeling restrictions
The City took one small step toward one of the strongest stances in the nation shunning bioengineered crops - and one giant leap into a growing furor.
Three members of San Francisco's Commission on the Environment on Tuesday agreed to push an ordinance that would, among other things, favor hiring food vendors who use only organic foods during city business or during events on city property.
The ordinance also calls for The City to urge federal regulators to require manufacturers to clearly label all genetically modified foods on store shelves, and even slap a moratorium on their sale until they are "thoroughly researched" for possible risks.
"We wanted to do more than just some fluffy public-awareness campaign," said commissioner Parin Shah. "We still feel like there are a lot of unanswered questions about these foods."
Tuesday's recommendation - which also urged the school district to serve organic lunches - came after a meeting of the commission's Planning and Policy Committee. The full, seven-member commission will review the ordinance July 17, and then the Board of Supervisors could weigh in.
The proposed ordinance comes amid growing debate over genetically altered foods, which have flourished in the past decade. Last year, for example, half of American soybean crops were bioengineered, according to the FDA.
Some environmentalists call them "Frankenfoods," claiming not enough testing has been done to ensure the foods are safe for consumers and questioning whether they harm the soil where they grow. Proponents argue the crops are regulated, produce high yields, reduce pesticide use and offer potential health benefits.
No one spoke against the ordinance Tuesday during public comments. But Lance Hastings, director of state affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said after the hearing that he strongly opposes it. He is concerned that the bioengineering debate is "starting with the assumption that these things are unsafe."
"This resolution says, 'Stop what you're doing and don't move forward,' " said Hastings, who was at the meeting to speak on another agenda item. "If you can add nutrients to foods, that's a good thing. That is often forgotten."
Other cities around the nation have established less stringent ordinances aimed at turning up a collective nose at bioengineered edibles.
Last August, Berkeley's school district became the first in the nation to line its cafeteria menus with organic foods in a program targeting elementary and middle school students who also do some of the planting and harvesting.
At Tuesday's committee meeting, the three members also favored an ordinance that would force beverage companies or vendors in The City to use plastic containers made from at least 25 percent recycled material by the end of the year. Committee members said they want to steer the plastics industry toward "closed-loop" recycling and away from turning plastic containers into products like rugs that cannot be recycled again.
Three plastics industry representatives at the meeting called the ordinance unnecessary and said The City's energy would be better spent on public education to increase recycling.
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Last Updated on 6/23/00
By Karen Lutz Benbrook