Organic food activists in Maine are backing a national effort to defeat a proposal that would effectively pre-empt states from requiring labeling of genetically modified food.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday will debate a resolution called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which allows for disclosure of GMOs to the Food and Drug Administration but not to the general public.

Opponents, led by the Organic Consumers Association, have dubbed the bill the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK, Act.

That group is leading a rally Wednesday before the committee hearing.

Sixteen states, including Maine, planned to bus residents to Washington, D.C., to attend the rally. However, Maine’s bus was canceled Tuesday because of bad weather.

Charlotte Warren, a newly elected state representative from Hallowell, organized Maine’s bus and said 49 people had signed up to go.

“This is an important issue because we believe states should have the ability to pass laws that are not pre-empted by Congress making deals with corporations,” she said. “Polls show that 93 percent of Americans want to know what it’s in their food.”

Among those expected to speak at the rally are U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who opposes the bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, and believes that all genetically modified food should be labeled.

“The message I hear from consumers around Maine and around the country is loud and clear: they want to know what’s in their food and they don’t want Congress stepping in to block efforts in states like Maine to require GMO labeling,” Pingree said in a statement. “The Pompeo bill is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and their supporters to keep the public from knowing when they are buying a GMO product.”

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, the majority shareholder of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald.

GMO labeling has become a hot topic at both the federal and state levels.

In Maine, several groups, led by the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, successfully lobbied to pass a GMO-labeling bill last year. However, that law is on hold until enough neighboring states pass similar bills.

Opponents of GMO labeling, namely major food manufacturers like Monsanto, have said labeling would be far too expensive to implement. That would mean either less money for shareholders or higher food costs.

Pompeo’s bill, which is being heavily lobbied by Monsanto and other groups, would go in the other direction and essentially prohibit states from enacting any labeling requirements.

It’s not clear if that bill has enough votes for passage, although Republicans do hold a sizable advantage in the House and will control the Senate as well during the next legislative session.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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