There are a myriad of reasons why consumers in America want to avoid GMOs. These reasons range from health and environmental concerns to cultural reasons to religious practice. In the end, when we are talking about GMO labeling, whether GMOs are good or bad should not be at issue. Rather, we have a right to know what is in our food and we must respect everyone’s individual reason for wanting to make their own educated decisions about the food they feed themselves and their families.

On Tuesday, January 26th, advocates packed a hearing room at the legislative office building in Concord, NH, where there was standing room only and testimony lasted all day. One testimony stood out from all others and should send a strong signal to legislators about the importance of labeling GMOs now. Characterized by the Concord Monitor as “the most unusual argument in favor of the bill,” Rabbi Robin Nafshi spelled out why GMO labeling is critically important for her personally to be able to carry out her own religious beliefs. Please take the time to read Rabbi Nafshi’s thoughtful testimony.
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Testimony in favor of HB 1674 • January 26, 2016

My name is Robin Nafshi. I am the rabbi of Temple Beth Jacob here in Concord. This morning I speak to you as a private citizen. Thank you for taking my testimony.

Genetically modified foods, by definition, consist of plants and animals with genomes altered by introducing genes from one species into a completely unrelated species through genetic engineering. Soybeans, for example, are modified with a glyphosate herbicide commonly known as Roundup – a weed killer. Corn is often modified with an insecticidal protein. Farm raised Coho salmon has been approved to be modified with a growth hormone from an eel. These are just three of many, many examples. Studies show that around 90% of the soy, cotton, canola, corn, and sugar beets sold in the United States have been genetically engineered.

Jewish law prohibits the mixing of two unlike species. The Hebrew term, כִּלְאַיִם kilayim, literally means “mixture” as well as “confusion.” The prohibition is mentioned twice in the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus states: “You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your fields with two kinds of seed; and you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of materials.” Furthermore, Deuteronomy states: “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed – and the yield from any such vineyard shall not be used. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear cloth mixing wool and linen together.”

From these two passages the ancient Rabbis deduced that the mixing of species is forbidden, specifically: the mixing of seeds; the grafting of different species of trees and vegetables; the mixing of seed in a vineyard; the hybridization of domestic and wild animals; plowing or driving with domestic or non-domestic animals of different species; and the mixing of wool and linen. Growing numbers of contemporary Jewish scholars have made the argument that the prohibition applies to genetically engineered or modified organisms as well.

In order for Jews to know if we are violating the prohibited commandment of not mixing species, it is imperative that we know if the food we seek to eat has been genetically modified. Thus I urge you to vote in favor of HB 1674 requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Thank you.

About the Author
Tara Cook-Littman