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How often do you read labels at the grocery store? A bill currently going through legislature might make it easier for people who don't to know what food they are buying. LD 718, Right To Know GMO-Labeling Bill would require a label on consumer products produced that are genetically engineered as an obligation for retail.

The bill, however, does not include anything that is not a GMO organism, such as milk, eggs or anything that comes from an animal that has been fed GMO's. Restaurants are also exempt from labeling if the bill is to pass. The bill has received tri-partisan support in legislature, with 123 co-sponsors and has been a campaign for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).

If passed, the bill would not go into effect until five other states approve it as well. Logan Perkins, MOFGA spokesperson states that Maine does not want to be an outlier on the issue, as detrimental economic effects on small farms could ensue. Also, larger chains and corporations may not want to sell in Maine if it were the only state that required labeling. Seventeen other states have similar bills in legislature, and a majority of them are in the Northeast, including New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusettes and New Jersey. Once the trigger of five states is reached, the bill would be implemented within 18 months.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Representive Lance Harvell of Farmington. “The modern food industry keeps people in the dark,” Harvell states, adding that he has been friendly with the local and organic food movement, and sees the people's concern about food. “It's like our mother's always used to say, 'you are what you eat, right down to your feet.'”

A recent poll of Maine voters, conducted by PanAtlanticSMS Group, from Portland, ME, showed that 91.1% of consumers want a labeling requirement for genetically modified foods. The poll, conducted by phone had 403 respondents from a wide variety of demographics. MOFGA states that the poll results are consistent with others from around the country.

But, it's just a label, right? That's right. The label won't make the decision for the consumers, but it will help to inform consumers that want the knowledge to make food decisions. “Consumers are the ones that will shape the future,” Perkins stated. The food-system will be controlled by the market, and the market is in the hands of the consumer.

Those opposed to the bill include the Biotech Industry. Bob Tardy previously served ten years as a legislator in the Maine House of Representatives and chaired the Standing Committee on Agriculture in the 1990's. Tardy, who now represents the Biotech Industry Organization and Somerset Associates, is a lobbyist with clients such as Kraft Foods, Inc., Croplife America and Red Bull says “If you want to avoid genetically engineered food products, that would be buying certified organic.”

The list of Genetically Modified crops is huge. Topping a Discovery Channel list is oils, soybeans, tomatoes, potatoes corn and salmon. “Everything on the market is cooked in oil, with corn or syrup,” Tardy stated, adding that the cost of labeling would be huge. “If it were a health issue, the federal government would do it,” he said, “but it is more of a public curiosity. There is no detectible difference in the growing of genetically engineered crops.”

A public hearing on Maine's LD718 Right To Know GMO Labeling Bill will be held on Tuesday, April 23 at 1 p.m. in the Joint Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) Committee in Room 214, Cross State Office Building, Augusta. More information about the MOFGA campaign can be found at www.mofga.org. Those wishing to give testimony are urged to contact local legislators. For Washington County, that is Rep. Katherine Cassidy, Larry Lockman, David Burns, Peter Doak, Joyce Maker and Beth Turner. Their contact information is available at http://www.maine.gov/legis/house/hcounty.htm#was.

 

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