Politics

July 9, 2013

LePage may OK bill requiring labels for genetically modified foods

The bill received unanimous votes in the Maine Senate and House, but if approved, could draw a lawsuit from agribusiness giant Monsanto.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

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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 Maine State House on Tuesday April 23, 2013. Advocates of a bill that would require food producers to label products containing genetically modified ingredients believe they’ve won a key ally: Gov. Paul LePage.

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. Maine advocates of a bill that would require food producers to label products containing genetically modified ingredients believe they’ve won a key ally: Gov. Paul LePage.

AP

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Advocates say that perception is compounded by the fact that the federal government has left testing to the industry.

The FDA regulates genetically modified foods but does not approve them. It assumes the foods are safe until confronted with evidence that they're not.

Faber said the industry could face a less desirable outcome than labeling products: congressional consideration of a regulatory system.

A federal labeling law may be the best result for states, too, Faber said. The threat of legal action by deep-pocketed industry groups has made attorneys general and state lawmakers nervous.

Maine Attorney General Mills told lawmakers in May that she could not guarantee that her office would be able to defend the constitutionality of L.D. 718.

Harvell, the sponsor, later agreed to amend the bill so the labeling requirement wouldn't take effect until five contiguous states, including Maine, passed similar legislation. The change was designed to split potential court costs among several states.

The cost is also driving the move to allow LePage to sign the bill next year.

L.D. 718 requires one final vote in the Senate. That vote is scheduled Tuesday, before the Legislature ends this session.

According to the state Constitution, adjournment essentially stops the clock on action required by the governor to veto or allow a bill to become law. The clock starts again when the Legislature reconvenes, allowing the governor and the Legislature to act on bills within three legislative days.

Adrienne Bennett, the governor's spokeswoman, would not comment on LePage's stance on L.D. 718, which has won unanimous votes so far in the Senate and House.

Heather Spalding, acting director of the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, one of the lead advocates for the bill, said her group has been assured that the governor will sign it next year.

Although that isn't yet in writing, Spalding said, it would be "unimaginable" for LePage "not to come through." She noted the energy of an advocacy effort that has been embraced by both political parties.

Connecticut recently became the first state to enact a food labeling law. The law includes a contiguous-states requirement, but Harvell said such a provision may not stop Monsanto or another industry group from filing a lawsuit.

"If Connecticut goes first and gets sued, then Maine can prepare its defense," Harvell said.

Faber said other states with labeling bills are considering similar "legislative caveats."

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

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler 

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