Interested in whether or not Maine will require labels for genetically-modified organisms (GMO)? Here’s news:
On Tuesday, May 21, the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee (ACF) voted “Ought to Pass” after a final review of language in LD 718: An Act To Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right To Know about Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock, which Representative Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) sponsored. This vote pushes LD 718, a bill requiring labels for many GMOs, to the House of Representatives.
Jim Gerritsen, owner of Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater and GMO labeling advocacy leader in Aroostook County, has closely followed the bill’s progress and believes that the full legislature will vote on LD 718 within the next couple weeks.
ACF held a work session yesterday that resulted in positive results for pro-labelers, when legislators voted down a last-minute amendment to the bill that read “A food product derived from an animal is not considered misbranded if the animal was not genetically engineered but was fed genetically engineered feed or a food product derived from any highly refined ingredients where the effect of the purification process is to remove DNA and/or novel protein is not considered misbranded.” [amendment emphasized]
To pro-labelers, it seemed the amendment “snuck in” to the bill and was connected with a baby formula company who claims their formula uses GMO ingredients that are stripped of their GMO-ness through processing. However, the injected language created the potential for interpretation highly valuable to other companies and their products.
“Based on the language, it would have been 100 times more far reaching than just baby formula,” said Gerritsen.
The amendment removed, the committee approved language adjustments that required that four out of nine nearby states also mandate GMO labeling before the law is enforced in Maine.
Out of 13 members on the committee, eight legislators voted ‘ought to pass’ with inserted language that stipulated a pool of trigger states, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
According to Gerritsen, Representatives Timberlake and Black supported an additional requirement that the four states be contiguous to Maine, but the majority felt this was an unnecessarily high bar. He also said it appeared the three legislators who voted “ought not to pass” wanted the federal government to handle such labeling requirements.
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association reported via Facebook status update, “Senator Sherman and Representatives Cray and Marean voted to send the discussion to Congress.”
Representatives Black and Timberlake claimed that without waiting for nearby states to require labeling, Maine was setting itself up for economic upset, when distribution centers in southern Maine contend with shipping to areas that have different regulations.
Regarding whether the labeling of GMOs would impact the efficiency of distribution, Gerritsen said, “I don’t believe that for a minute.”
Gerritsen provided the example of Coca-Cola, who manages to work with different bottle deposit regulations that vary across states and exhibit very little geographical consistency. He said that we are capable of managing such massive logistics.
According to Gerritsen, people start out with a negative position and then grasp at reasons to support their position and instilling fear over distribution problems is a reach.
“Their arguments are weak,” said Gerritsen.
Senator Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), Chair of ACF, said he’s heard from numerous constituents regarding this issue and “the majority are in favor of labeling.”
However, Jackson has also spoken with Aroostook County farmers that are concerned about the costs of labeling, and other issues.
Jackson didn’t mention distribution, but did say that a concern for the committee was whether companies would choose to forego business with Maine if they had stricter regulations.
“We don’t want to be the outlier,” said Jackson.
Jackson explained that the inclusion of language for four additional triggering states addressed this concern, with the presumption that companies may continue business as usual if a critical mass of five states in an area require labeling.
“Quite honestly it’s a very tough bill,” said Jackson on Wednesday.
According to Jackson, the federal government prohibits states from requiring labeling unless there is a health concern. Jackson said that there are currently no studies that point to GMOs as a health concern, but continued by saying the companies that use GMOs are usually responsible for conducting studies.
“I think the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] has dropped the ball on studying GMOs,” said Jackson.
At this stage, the most important action a concerned voter can take is to contact their legislative representatives, and communicate the nature of their concerns.
To Gerritsen, he is concerned with his right to know.
“Information and transparency are hallmarks of democracy,” said Gerritsen.
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