Even if you hate the idea of genetically modified food, you would gain nothing from a Los Angeles City Council proposal to ban the growing of such crops here. That’s because no one grows them in L.A. and as near as anyone knows, no one has any plan to do so.
That makes the proposed ban largely symbolic — in addition to being irrational and unscientific. Yet it seemed almost certain to pass this week, because a state law that takes effect Jan. 1 was believed to prohibit any such ordinance in the future. The tight time frame placed extra pressure on council members to act hastily.
Fortunately, the council’s Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee refused Monday to be rushed into the ban proposed by Councilmen Paul Koretz and Mitch O’Farrell. The committee majority correctly decided that the matter called for more study, expressed concern about how the ban would be enforced and agreed that regulating crops might be the job of state and federal governments, not municipal ones.
There are reasonable concerns about certain — not all — genetically engineered crops, but this proposal is a too-blunt instrument that attacks them all without basis in scientific fact. Koretz in particular has suggested publicly that bioengineered food might be unhealthy for consumption, even though a large body of research — much of it not funded by the agricultural industry — has found no evidence that genetically engineered food is less wholesome than the conventional variety. Koretz is entitled to his opinions and food choices, but without better facts on his side, he should not be trying to make his personal food biases into law. Besides, the ban wouldn’t affect what people eat, just what they grow.
Another reason given for the ordinance is that some research has found links between bioengineered crops that use neonicotinoid pesticides and the die-off of honeybees. But “neonics” are also used in common garden products for rosebushes and the like. Unlike genetically engineered crops, these products are actually present in Los Angeles. So the ban would take worthless action against the crops while ignoring more useful steps that are well within the City Council’s grasp, such as educating the public about reducing pesticide use.
There are now indications that the new state law might not affect this proposal, so it could come back to life. It should be put out of its misery instead. A blanket ban would be akin to banning childhood vaccines to appease people who fear them despite the scientific evidence that they do not cause autism.
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