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Maine House backs GMO labeling bill

4 commentsBy Elaine WATSON , 12-Jun-2013
Last updated the 12-Jun-2013 at 15:04 GMT

Picture: Community Food Co-op, Montana
Picture: Community Food Co-op, Montana

The campaign for mandatory GMO labeling gained a further boost this week as the Maine House of Representatives voted 141-4 in favor of LD 718 , a bill that would require foods made with ingredients from biotech crops to carry the label ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering’.

The bill - which must now go to the state senate and comes hot on the heels of a ‘yes’ vote for GMO labeling in Connecticut - also stipulates that foods with GMO labels cannot be marketed as ‘natural’. But it does not contain private enforcement provisions and will only take effect when five contiguous states pass similar laws.

Just Label It: ‘Momentous vote rides on the wave of the growing movement for GE labeling’

The “momentous” vote was immediately welcomed by the Just Label It campaign manager Katrina Staves, who said it “rides on the wave of the growing movement for GE labeling in New England and across the country”.

She added: "This symbolizes the common sentiment by consumers everywhere for greater transparency in our food."

But those questioning the value of GM labels said slapping the equivalent of ‘may contain GMOs’ on 80% of packaged foods would not represent a very meaningful victory for consumers.

Speaking with FoodNavigator-USA about whether consumers have a right to know if foods are made with GM crops, molecular geneticist Dr Alan McHughen - who works at the botany and plant sciences dept at the University of California, Riverside - said: “How would that help consumers?”

All this will do is drive up the cost of all foods

Being open and honest with the public about the pros and cons of agricultural biotechnology is one thing, he said. But making it a legal requirement to detail the production methods used to make foods - even if they do not affect their safety or nutritional content - is quite another, he said.

Meanwhile, many products made with genetically engineered crops contain no detectable GM material or protein at all in the final product, he said.

Dr Alan McHughen served on US National Academy of Sciences panels investigating the environmental effects of transgenic plants, a second investigating the safety of genetically engineered foods and helped review a third looking at sustainability and economic impacts of biotechnology on US agriculture

“Once the door is open to mandatory process-based labels, there's no end to what consumers' curiosity will demand: Mandatory labels on foods produced in a union processing facility? Food grown on farms owned by women?  

“All this will do is drive up the cost of all foods due to the liability issues that come with mislabeling, even from incidental mistakes, while diluting the positive value of our current, safety-based labels.

UK consumers have less choice in the market, and pay substantially higher food process

As to what GMO labeling will mean for the food industry, he said: ”I can see all of the options. The easiest route would be to have a generic ‘May contain GM ingredients’ on everything. But how would that help consumers?

“A definite ‘Does contain GM ingredients’ is also useless without identifying which ingredients are GM, and the nature of the change. For example, some consumers may wish to avoid GM vegetables if they carry animal genes and protein, but don't care if the veggies don't have any DNA or protein at all.”

Meanwhile, “retailers are concerned about GM food labels used as a beacon for activists picketing the stores”, he said.

“Remember the GM tomato paste on sale in the UK in 1999?  Activists picketed Sainsbury's and other retailers, warning consumers that the store was poisoning them, until the retailers removed the labeled products from the shelves. 

“The end result was what the activists wanted all along: No GM foods in the market. As a result, UK consumers have less choice in the market, and pay substantially higher food process.

“Even US activists will admit in private that's their true goal, with labeling as one step to meeting the objective of banning the GM foods altogether, although in public they usually fly the flag of 'consumer choice.”

GMO labeling: The latest

More than 20 other states are considering similar legislation this year, including Washington and Vermont. Last week, Connecticut became the first state to pass a GE labeling bill, which will go into effect when four states, including one neighboring one, pass similar legislation. 

A federal GE labeling bill has also been introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

4 comments (Comments are now closed)

GMO products should not be labelled

If 80% of foods contain GE ingredients, then forcing mandatory labelling is a waste of time and resources. The logical solution is for those companies that DO NOT use GE ingredients to change their labelling to promote the fact theirs does not contain GE ingredients. If they think this is important, then let them put it on their package. If the FDA has already approved GE crops as a scientifically safe food source, then Governments should not get involved in mandating what is printed on a label. What's next? Mandatory labelling on whether the tin is American made?

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Posted by LW
14 June 2013 | 19h17

GMO crops haven't been proven safe nor unsafe

There is compelling but insufficient evidence on both sides of the GMO food safety argument. Dr McHughen's assertion that GMO crops are safe is simply an opinion. Therefore GMO labeling achieves what the regulatory agencies, that approved GMO crops as food, failed to do and protect the public from a potential food threat. It is highly likely that GMO crops will be linked to long term adverse effects which are not clearly evident now, and "we are sorry" or "we did not have the data" doesn't beat consumer choice. FYI a recent study by the University of WA concluded that GMO yields are nominally better than non GMO

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Posted by MA
12 June 2013 | 21h39

GMO labeling should happen if people want it

Biotech supporters like Mr. McHughen give many reasons why we shouldn't have GMO labeling but the bottom line is that we live in a democracy and if Americans want labeling then it should happen. Period.
We need to join the other 64 countries that have labeling.
I also don't see too many people demanding labels on foods for other reasons.

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Posted by Ken Roseboro
12 June 2013 | 21h23

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