Testimony on HB660, a bill to the require the Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods and Agricultural Commodities
Before the Subcommittee of the Environment and Agriculture Committee
Concord, New Hampshire. Testimony by Bill Couzens Founder Lesscancer.org October 1, 2013
My name is Bill Couzens. I am the founder of the organization Next Generation Choices Foundation, also known as lesscancer.org. Lesscancer.org was founded 10 years ago.
We are a 501(c)(3) public charity.
Today, I wear two hats. My priority is as a father of two children, and my wish for them and all of our children is that they live in a world that does not suppress information.
My role as an advocate for cancer prevention allowed me access to tools that I believe helped me in my role as a parent.
Those tools have helped me “go to bat” for my kids.
I understand the impact and consequences of the choices we make in our lives that are mostly made from a place of convenience.
Labeling is important, not just for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but for many things we bring into our homes from food to cleaning supplies and even materials for our gardens.
Today I am going to provide a thumbnail and historic perspective on how and why information translates to solutions for prevention. I will not be speaking to health effects of GMOs, but only the importance of being an informed consumer.
I founded less cancer after my sister Anne died of cancer.
The vision and mission for the organization is focused on less cancer. Less incidences of cancer.
Before our organization was founded, everything was about treating cancer, beating cancer and curing cancer.
It was reactive not proactive.
As a non-expert in cancer I founded the organization from a place of loss, knowing nothing more than I wanted “less”—“less cancer.”
I grew up on a street where friends on my block had mothers who died of cancer; including my mother the oldest to die at age 68.
That was not the case for some of my young friends and neighbors who lost their mothers in grade school. In a block of about 10 homes, three of the mothers had died before I was even a teenager and some much younger.
At the time I never really understood that my friends’ mothers were different, but they were, often wearing wigs and needing help from nurses.
I attended my first funeral for one the mothers on the block when I was in first grade.
Today several of the children of those mothers who died of cancer also have been diagnosed with cancer, including my sister and my brother, who were both in their 50s and now are both dead from cancer.
One of the families on the block I grew up on had five out of eight of the children diagnosed with cancer. Two have died, and three have survived.
These were not people who had long histories of cancer in their families, but rather cancer in their neighborhood.
Richard Nixon launched the War on Cancer in 1971 and since then we have suffered untold incidences of cancer and spent billions of dollars on research. We live in a time when cancer has become so commonplace that the news of new cases seems almost expected.
I also understand the magnitude of this firsthand from the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who engage us in the “Less Cancer” conversation on social media and other websites.
But these stories are not just mine. Everyone in this room has been touched by cancer or lost someone whom they loved to cancer.
The National Institute of Health tells us that this year more than 1 million Americans and more than 10 million people worldwide are expected to be diagnosed with cancer, a disease commonly believed to be preventable.
Only 5–10 percent of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90–95 percent have their roots in the environment and lifestyle.
Understanding the influence of environment on incidence of cancer, the EPA has only been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.
Cancer is not “happenstance”; cancer is not just something that comes with bad luck. The science indicates that most cancer is preventable.
As a parent having that information there is little choice for me but to have my eyes wide open.
I share this story not in an attempt to link GMOs to cancer but to demonstrate the importance of knowing what you bring into your home.
For me the question looms, if 90 -95% of cancer is thought to be preventable, what can we be doing differently?
Information can guide us in our personal choices and in some cases provide choices that can reduce risk to the environment and human health. One way of getting the information is by reading labels.
For me reading labels when I was buying groceries for my family allows me to understand what I am bringing into our home. Not because I think it can cause cancer, but because I believe I have the right to know. Understanding labels was especially necessary for my son, who was battled severe allergies as a young child.
As a kid, I had never heard of asthma. However, last year I understand that among children ages 5 to 17 they collectively missed 14 million school days.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation says that there is no cure for asthma, but asthma can be managed with proper prevention and treatment.
As a result we need to be especially careful of all those things that can take on the natural landscape of our lives and have little understanding of the known or unknown risk.
A lack of evidence never translates to safe. We know this for we are still cleaning up the issues associated with smoking.
People in the United States live under the false impression that if something is legal, it is safe for humans and the environment.
That thought is naive.
While some of you maybe too young to remember, we are a country that had and physicians selling cigarettes. The Lorillard Tobacco Co., maker of Kent cigarettes, advertised their product’s “health protection.”
That seemed to work because the company reportedly sold about 12 billion Kents. But those same “healthy” Kents contained crocidolite asbestos in filters from about 1952 through 1956. Asbestos is known to cause Mesothelioma—a form of cancer. The nation’s fourth-largest tobacco company took out full-page ads in the Journal of the American Medical Association. One advertisement mentioned how “thousands” of physicians at a recent AMA convention witnessed “a convincing demonstration of the MICRONITE FILTER” and included photos.
Somehow it seems we are always in the the 1950’s. Thinking a product is the next best thing and embracing what ever it may be not fully informed. Our history tells us just because its on the shelf and for sale does not mean that its safe. In fact our history also shows us that we have operated under the umbrella of its safe until proven otherwise.
As a result of knowing what historically we do not know or fully understand through my experience with Less Cancer that awareness comes into play when I grocery shop for my family.
We understand that food can be a prevention tool in itself for both maintaining health and preventing illness.
I choose foods that are in their purest form that have no additives—foods such as an apple. Things in boxes or in the frozen food section that require a lot of reading I avoid. If I get prepared foods, I always choose those with the short ingredient list.
Less stuff. Less additives.
However today if you were to choose an uncomplicated food such as an apple, you’re not going to know what’s in your apple unless it is labeled.
From a personal place I am not interested in having the government or a special interest lobbyist tell me that I do not need to know what is in a particular product.
One reason I am proud to be an American is that we live in a country where our culture is based on transparency.
We know what happens when the government wishes to regulate by not regulating, leaving the cleanup to the public.
Having information upfront is to live our lives proactively not reactively.
When the government conceals information about something as simple as an apple, it makes me wonder—should I be concerned?
Through strategic marketing efforts in the social networks and on the web, the idea of labeling GMOs has been incorrectly spun to be a skull and crossbones by GMO promoters. Actually, if the products in fact are as safe as they indicate, it should not be any different than listing any other ingredient such as sugar, corn starch or anything along those lines.
Labels are not warnings but simply tools for identification.
Names are information labels.
However we do see labels on many things that do not seem to slow sales we see that on cigarettes and alcohol where not only are there labels but warnings and sales are booming.
Because we are Americans we make our own choices, but we make those choices on information.
I for one am not willing to turn my need to know over to a government that tell us we do not need to know.
It’s important to be mindful of the fact that listing an ingredient or labeling something such as a GMO varies very little when it comes down to transparency.
The need to know truth in no means makes the leap to placing a judgment on GMOs; it’s just wanting to know enough truth for the consumer to identify the product.
Simply put there, is no downside to an informed consumer.