April 24, 2013

Should Maine require labeling for genetically modified food?

Hundreds gather in Augusta to debate consumer awareness of bioengineered farm products as lawmakers try to decide.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Genetically modified food

Are you concerned about food that contains ingredients with genetically modified organisms?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

Logan Perkins, Right to Know-GMO Campaign Coordinator for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, speaks at a rally outside the State House on Tuesday April 23, 2013 before a legislative hearing on LD 718, An Act to Protect Maine Food Consumers' Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock, in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Products labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) are sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Feliz district of Los Angeles Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. The national debate over genetically modified food moved to the Maine State House on Tuesday, pitting agribusiness, grocers and some Maine farmers against a well-organized group of organic farmers and national food-safety advocates seeking to opt out of the "GMO experiment."

AP

Additional Photos Below

WHAT ARE GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plant or animal genes that have been artificially spliced with the DNA of an unrelated plant, animal, bacterium or virus.

• GMOs were developed by scientists to increase a plant or animal's resistance to disease.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 70 percent of the processed food in American supermarkets is made from GMO ingredients.

Labeling laws face an uphill climb, despite polls showing support for them. California voters narrowly defeated a labeling bill in 2012. The biotech food products industry outspent advocates, $45 million to $6.7 million, according to published reports.

In Maine, advocates of L.D. 718 include the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, which has enlisted the expertise of one of the state's top lobbying firms, Preti Flaherty. The organic farmers group brought a large crowd to the public hearing, including Samuel Kaymen, co-founder of Stonyfield yogurt.

An industry coalition opposed to the bill includes the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Farm Bureau, with backing from agribusiness giant Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The industry coalition has hired lobbyist Robert Tardy and start-up Red Hill Strategies, a Portland consulting firm headed by Republican operative Lance Dutson and Mike Leavitt, the former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee.  

Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, active campaign donors to lawmakers in agriculture-heavy states, are also involved in the congressional debate.

Monsanto managed to insert a rider in the recent congressional budget bill. Critics say the rider prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture from halting production of a genetically engineered crop once it's in the ground even if studies prove the crop could be harmful.

The competing influential interests make passage of L.D. 718 uncertain despite its having more than 120 legislative co-sponsors, composed of Democrats, independents and libertarian Republicans.

Opponents on Tuesday argued that the bill violates constitutional provisions on interstate commerce allowing companies to avoid disclosing whether their products are genetically engineered.  

Hansen, with Consumers Union, rebutted the constitutional argument. He said there are more than 200 state-enacted food labeling laws, including for maple syrup grades and kosher foods. No state has enacted a comprehensive GMO-label law, although Alaska recently passed a resolution against genetically modified salmon. 

The agriculture committee on April 16 sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Mills seeking review of the constitutionality of the bill. She has not yet responded. 

Constitutional concerns also have surfaced in Vermont, where the Legislature is poised to enact a labeling law. Monsanto has threatened to sue the state if it passes the bill.

Monsanto's history of litigation was noted by Harvell, the bill's sponsor. He said he is skeptical that the company will adequately test its products.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

On Twitter: @stevemistler

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Products labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) are sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Feliz district of Los Angeles Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. The national debate over genetically modified food moved to the Maine State House on Tuesday, pitting agribusiness, grocers and some Maine farmers against a well-organized group of organic farmers and national food-safety advocates seeking to opt out of the "GMO experiment."

AP

click image to enlarge

Dr. Micheal Hansen, of Consumers Union, testifies in favor of LD 718, An Act to Protect Maine Food Consumers' Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock, before the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on Tuesday April 23, 2013 in the Cross State Office Building in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

 


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Today's poll: Genetically modified food

Are you concerned about food that contains ingredients with genetically modified organisms?

Yes

No

View Results