Full list: GMO News

WPTZ: Vt. Senate committee weighing GMO labeling bill

Ben & Jerry’s and other food producers called on lawmakers to pass a strong labeling bill
By Jack Thurston
2/22/14
Full Article

MONTPELIER, Vt. —A group of companies from Vermont’s food industry called on the Vt. State Senate Wednesday to pass legislation requiring food labels that will let people know if they’re eating genetically-modified organisms or GMOs. The issue is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee, after having been advanced by the Senate Agriculture Committee. Last year, the Vt. House of Representatives passed a bill requiring GMO labeling by July, 2015.

“I think consumers want to know where their food comes from and what’s in that food,” said Chris Miller, the activism manager for the iconic ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, which has pledged to have all its pints labeled as GMO-free by mid-2014. “Vermonters want to shop their values. And it’s only through a label that will allow Vermonters to be able to do that.”

Most of the processed food sold in the center aisles of grocery stores contains ingredients like corn or soybeans that had their DNA modified to enhance crop yield. Many large-scale farmers call biotechnology a boon, and government regulators have said it has been a part of our food system for two decades, presenting no known food safety issues. However, critics and a growing number of consumers remain deeply skeptical and want transparency.

Maine and Connecticut have already passed laws that would mandate GMO labeling, but they’re delaying implementation until other states sign on. Vermont’s proposed bill does not wait for other states. Attorney General Bill Sorrell, D-Vt., warned lawmakers this month that the state would likely be sued by major food producers if it required labels.

“We’ve drafted language that is constitutionally defendable,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden County, one of the bill’s biggest champions in the Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee must now decide if the bill needs extra protections such as a legal defense fund or a clause that waits for bigger states to join, said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, the committee’s chairman.

The Vermont Grocers’ Association said it doesn’t have a position on whether or not food should be labeled, but insisted the issue should be a national one left to regulatory agencies. “Patchwork is not the right way to go,” said executive director Jim Harrison. “Uniform national labeling is the much more preferable way to go.”

Sen. Sears said he expects his Judiciary Committee to act early next month.


Times Argus: Vt. GMO bill gets showing of public support

February 08,2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER — The Senate Agriculture Committee voted Friday in support of labeling foods that contain genetically modified ingredients — without a requirement that other states act first before a Vermont law would take effect.

Friday’s 4-1 vote came after a Thursday evening public hearing at which there was unanimous support for GMO labeling, and strong opposition to tying a Vermont requirement to action by other states.

Next week, the bill is expected to move to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and it’s uncertain what will happen there on the question of other states acting before a Vermont law takes effect.

More than 200 Vermonters gathered at the State House on Thursday to tell two Vermont Senate committees they want food containing genetically modified products to be labeled as such.

Americans were told decades ago that the now-banned pesticide DDT was safe, said Nova Kim, a collector and seller of wild mushrooms from Fairlee. “I spent the better part of my life dealing with health issues as a result,” she said.

She and others who testified said they “simply want to be able to choose” whether to eat genetically modified food. Many voiced strong suspicion about pesticides used on foods, and argued that genetically modified organisms are often designed to allow freer use of the chemicals.

One of the chemicals, the widely used herbicide Roundup, kills milkweed, a crucial food source for monarch butterflies, said Elizabeth Howard of Norwich.

The crowd’s sentiment was clear from the beginning. Signup sheets for speakers just before the hearing started showed more than 80 had put their names down as wanting to speak in favor of labeling.

The Vermont House passed a labeling bill last year. A draft pending in the Senate contains “options” for how the bill would become effective in the state. One would make a labeling law effective 18 months after two other states had passed similar legislation; another would require that four other states pass a labeling law.

Another provision would address fears that a state law would bring a court challenge from the biotech industry. It would set up a special defense fund to which labeling supporters could donate, with Vermont’s law taking effect when the fund accumulated $5 million.

Many speakers expressed little sympathy for the threat of lawsuits or the strategy of waiting for other states.

“I beg you to pass the labeling law without a trigger, regardless of what other states are going to do,” said Silvia Smith of South Strafford.

“Giving New Hampshire the power to decide if a Vermont law goes into effect is unacceptable,” said Stuart Blood of Thetford Center.

The biotech industry has argued there is no chemical difference between foods containing genetically modified ingredients and those that don’t. Thursday, a group of 28 food industry groups said they would support voluntary use by food companies of labels approved by the Food and Drug Administration indicating the food is genetically modified. Such a national system would pre-empt state laws.


The Hill: Food industry launches GMO push

February 06, 2014
By Ben Goad
Full Article

Major players in the American food industry formally launched an effort Thursday to head off regulations requiring labels on genetically engineered foods through the creation of a set of less restrictive federal standards.

The push for voluntary federal labeling standards, first reported by The Hill in November, follows expensive battles in California and Washington state over ballot initiatives seeking to impose mandatory labeling regulations.

The Coalition of Safe Affordable Foods, made up of roughly 30 trade groups from the food, biotechnology and farming industries, will press for legislation creating a voluntary labeling system for products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The group’s proposal would require labeling for any products deemed by the Food and Drug Administration to carry a public health threat — though, to date, none has — and impose a new mandatory pre-market technology review process at the agency.

At the same time, the measure would put an end to a growing number of mandatory bills that have cropped up in state legislatures around the country.

“The legislation we’re proposing would preclude state legislation that conflicts with the federal standards,” Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said.

The group is leading the push for a voluntary system and began circulating an outline for potential legislation months ago.

Food safety and consumer watchdog groups that are demanding a mandatory federal system are backing competing legislation now pending in both chambers of Congress.

The watchdogs derided the industry effort as a blatant attempt to keep the American public in the dark.

“Voluntary labeling is an absolutely ineffective policy solution and is not a substitute for mandatory labeling,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. “Instead of working together to meet consumer demand, GMA is using its deep pockets to ensure that congress and consumers are misled about their food supply.”

The industry proposal calls for mandatory labels for any products derived from genetically engineered plants — but only if they are found to present any risks to health or safety, according to an early draft of the industry proposal.

To date, the FDA has made no such finding with regard to GMOs.

In the absence of any such designation, the legislation would direct the FDA to develop a new voluntary labeling system under which products could be labeled as “GMO-free.” The labeling system would also apply to any companies that wish to label products as containing GMOs, according to the draft.


WCAX: Vt. lawmakers, public, weigh in on GMO bill

Feb 07, 2014
By Ali Freeman
Full Article and Video

MONTPELIER, Vt. -Would you know if you were eating genetically modified food? Many Vermonters say they want laws passed to require companies to disclose when they use technology to alter their products. Potatoes, potato chips, milk, fruits, veggies and more GMO’s can be found everywhere. A proposed bill would require companies to clearly mark foods that have been genetically modified. But Vermont’s Attorney General says this could get the state into a sticky lawsuit.

“Don’t GMO me bro,” said Al Walskey of Bershire as the crowd laughed.

Although laughter filled the packed House Chamber at the State House Thursday night, it was a serious night of testimony. The topic: Genetically Modified food.

“I am concerned and want to know what’s in my food. And I would imagine that most legislators are also concerned and they would want to know what is in their food,” said Alton Smith of Wolcott.

Dozens gave testimony in front of two Senate committees, regarding a bill that would require foods with GMO’s to label accordingly.

Most of the corn and soy crops grown in the U.S. come from GMO seeds — which are engineered to resist insects and herbicides. The FDA says they are indistinguishable from non-GMO foods, so they don’t have to be labeled. And labeling opponents say doing so, would wrongly imply the foods are unsafe.

The Vermont House passed a bill last year requiring GMO labeling by July 2015, and now it’s up to the senate. Hundreds turned up for the public testimony, many voicing concerns about health risks from genetically modified foods.

“Ladies and gentleman, in light of serious unsettled questions about the safety of GM foods and associated herbicide use — I submit that the Vermont market must have information at the retail level as soon as possible to work correctly,” said Timothy O’Dell of Corinth.

Many also testified against the proposed trigger clauses. These proposed clauses could mean this law would only go into effect after other states have done the same.

“I beg you to pass the labeling law without a trigger — regardless of what other states are going to do,” said Sylvia Smith of South Strafford.

Everyone who testified Thursday was in favor of requiring GMO labeling. But even if passed, this bill may hit a major snag.

“I think it’s very likely that we would be sued, very likely,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

Sorrell says requiring companies to label their product is a violation of Freedom of Speech and Vermont would be sued by some big players.

Sorrell is scheduled to testify before the legislature Friday, warning lawmakers about the costly risk of litigation. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on the bill Friday, which would then send it to the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Common Dreams: The Trigger Trap: Will Vermont Lawmakers Let Industry Strangle Another GMO Labeling Law?

February 5, 2014
by Will Allen and Kate Duesterberg
Full Op-Ed

From spending millions to defeat ballot initiatives, to floating a voluntary federal labeling “solution,” to threatening to sue any state, including Vermont, if it passes a GMO labeling law, the biotech and junk food industries are determined to keep labels off of foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

One of their strategies designed to thwart state GMO labeling laws involves convincing normally progressive state lawmakers to add a “trigger” clause to their state bills. A trigger adds an additional condition to a bill, a condition that must be met before the law can be enacted. The trigger clause appeals to state lawmakers who want to shield their states from the financial burden of millions of dollars in legal costs, should industry follow through on threats to sue.

The trigger strategy has been employed successfully so far in Maine and Connecticut. Will Vermont be the next to fall into the trigger trap? Or will Vermont senators and the Governor stand up for their constituents by standing up to industry?

In 2013, Connecticut and Maine passed GMO labeling bills. Both those laws are in limbo, where they will remain until four neighboring states with a combined population of 20 million inhabitants pass similar labeling bills. Connecticut and Maine lawmakers justified the triggers as a strategy to spread out the legal liability in the event of industry lawsuits.

But industry activists, who thought they’d won the labeling battle only to realize they’d gained only a pyrrhic victory, are frustrated. In Vermont, where more than 90 percent of the citizens are in favor of a mandatory GMO labeling law, activists hope their lawmakers will take the lead, by passing the first clean, trigger-less GMO labeling law.

Vermont’s H.112 Can Withstand Legal Challenge

Legal scholars and the Vermont Attorney General’s office have determined that H.112 is well-researched, well-written and fully defensible in court.

Of course, industry has told every lie in the book, and pulled every trick out of its hat, to convince state lawmakers otherwise. Just as they lied to voters in California and Washington State, where GMO labeling initiatives were narrowly defeated, representatives from the Biotechnology Industry Organization testified in Vermont that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had performed health and safety tests on GMO crops, and found them to be safe.

That testimony was refuted by Michael Hansen, senior scientist at the Consumers Union, who stated that the FDA has never performed health or safety testing on any GMO crop. In fact, the only tests performed on GMO crops, for human food and animal feed, were those done by biotech companies or researchers working under contract for those companies. Neither the U.S. government nor independent researchers have been permitted to conduct the long-term multi-generational feeding studies that are usually required before a new product is released. Why? Because GMO seed manufacturers won’t release their proprietary seeds for testing.

In fact, the only thing most U.S. consumers know about the safety or danger of these products is what the genetic manipulators tell us.

But consumers are wising up, thanks to the work of brave researchers in Europe and Asia who have risked their careers to conduct short and long-term studies of GMO food and animal feed. The results of these independent tests, and the widespread use of the precautionary principle, prompted 64 countries—but not the U.S.—to label GMO products to protect their citizens.

Time to Apply the ‘Precautionary Principle’ to GMOs

The precautionary principle holds that when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships have not yet been fully established scientifically.

When it comes to our food, shouldn’t we take every precaution to avoid releasing products that haven’t been adequately tested for health and safety, into the marketplace?

And yet, we don’t. In the case of GMOs, the precautionary principle comes into play because preliminary results from independent researchers in the European Union and Asia found kidney and liver tumors, and intestinal abnormalities. In spite of these findings, the corporations making the products have consistently refused to let government and independent U.S. researchers conduct trials of their products.

In the U.S., the precautionary principle is rejected by corporations and government regulators who employ much more corporate-friendly “standards.” Those “standards,” known as quantitative risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses, are more like sliding scales than standards. This system determines that certain chemically produced substances make some people sick and kill other victims. This risk of illness and death is contrasted with the benefits to farmers and the food supply. In this risk-benefit system, the death of a certain number of people is evaluated as an acceptable risk in order to get the benefit of more food or animal feed by using toxic pesticides, fertilizers or GMOs.

If a pesticide causes cancer in laboratory animals, the EPA makes the calculation and the tolerance is set so that the estimated exposure will be less than the amount calculated to cause one extra cancer case per million people. This is the level that EPA calls a “negligible risk.” The EPA is not interpreting this standard strictly; however, estimated cancer risks that are almost double that level are frequently acceptable. Economic benefits have been used to justify cancer risks that are up to 10 times higher. Instead of standards, critics accuse the U.S. of employing “risk roulette.”

Consumers Want Real Laws, not ‘Triggers’

Opinion polls have shown repeatedly that consumers want GMOs labeled.  As the struggle over labeling is waged, in one form or another, in at least 26 states, the trigger becomes one of the biotech and food industry’s most effective tools.

But consumers know what the trigger strategy really is—just another way to put off the day when we have the right to know what is in our food. It is intended to protect state funds. But it’s really just another way for state legislators to avoid direct confrontation with corporate bullies.

Isn’t it time lawmakers stand up for their constituents, and stand up to industry? Let Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers sue. Let’s all encourage Vermont to take the lead, and pass a clean, trigger-less law. If you live outside Vermont, please visit http://www.vtrighttoknowgmos.org/ to see how you can help. If you’re a Vermonter, please contact your state lawmaker today and ask him or her to support H.112.


Huffington Post: Members of Congress, Farmers and Businesses Call on Obama to Fulfill Campaign Promise on GMO Labeling

1/16/14
By Elizabeth Kucinich
Full Article

A morning press conference offered a beacon of hope for farmers and activists on Capitol Hill today as members of Congress and 200 organizations demanded Obama fulfill his 2007 campaign promises to label GMOs.

The appeal had added urgency after the USDA recently published its initial recommendation to deregulate Dow Chemical’s 2,4-D resistant corn and soybeans. Perhaps the most pernicious GMO crops yet, 2,4-D crops threaten to severely increase the spraying of 2,4-D, a component in the Vietnam era defoliant, “Agent Orange.”

“Right-to-Know Act” sponsor, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), food and nutrition champion Rep. Rosa Delauro (D-CT), organic farmer Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) gave remarks together with Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group and organic food industry leader, Gary Hirschberg of Stonyfield Farms.

“We need the federal government to step up. People across the U.S deserve labeling,” said Rep. Kuster. “It’s all about the consumer’s right to know,” Rep. DeFazio explained. “I’m fed up with voluntary initiatives. We need mandatory labeling,” added Rep. DeLauro.

Although the FDA doesn’t need congressional authorization in order to mandate a federal labeling standard for GMOs, federal lawmakers have become increasingly vocal on the issue. Following former Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s lead, Rep. DeFazio and Senator Boxer (D-CA) last year introduced bipartisan companion labeling bills, and Senate committees have voted twice in favor of labeling genetically engineered fish.

When polled, 93 percent of the American public said they supported the labeling of genetically engineered food and ingredients. Sixty-four countries already have GMO labeling standards.

Last year, 26 states considered a labeling bill of some form or another. That number is expected to grow in 2014. According to Center for Food Safety’s Colin O’Neil, food manufacturers and the pesticide industry spent nearly $70 million fighting ballot initiatives in just two of those states, California and Washington State.

And it’s not just consumers. Weed and soil scientists are giving grave warnings as to the effects of GMO crops on the escalating use of chemicals in agriculture. With the majority of GMO crops designed to withstand pesticide applications, use of the chemicals has skyrocketed.

“This isn’t complicated,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, “this is a question of whether the government will stand with a few chemical companies, or the 93 percent of the American people who want labeling.”

There is ample precedent. As well as basic ingredients, labels also disclose country of origin, irradiation and even, orange juice ‘made from concentrate’. FDA’s labeling requirements are not based on solely on safety concerns and nutrition, a common myth propped up by the food and chemical industries. A federal labeling standard would give consumers the opportunity to make their own choices about the foods they bring home to their families.

“It’s simple. I’m a farmer. I know what I grow. I know what I put on the food I grow. Processors and manufacturers know the same. They know what is in your food. They label ingredients. They can label GMOs,” said Rep. Pingree.

“Transparency is essential for public trust,” stated Obama in 2007. Now perhaps would be a good time to come true on his pledge?

The White House has not yet responded.


New England Cable News: Vt. rally pushes for GMO labeling law

By Jack Thurston
1/16/14
Full Article

(Montpelier, Vt.) – At a rally Thursday in Montpelier, several dozen demonstrators called on the state Senate to pass a bill requiring labels on foods that contain ingredients with altered DNA. Most processed foods contain ingredients that had their DNA manipulated in a lab. The biotech industry insists these foods are completely safe to eat, but the activists at the rally were not buying that.

“We’re targeting everybody,” said Andrea Stander, the executive director of the group Rural Vermont, which advocates for a self-reliant food system and support for farmers who protect the earth. “We’re targeting everybody because, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met anybody yet who doesn’t eat. And this is about people’s food, and something that everybody does a couple of times a day, at least.”

Stander is worried about genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs. Many crops, like corn and soybeans, had their DNA manipulated to boost yields for farmers or efficiency for food producers. Most food labels do not reflect that change.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates GMOs. The World Health Organization says no ill effects on human health from GMOs have been shown.

Many remain deeply skeptical. Vt. state Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden County, told participants at the rally he is focused on ensuring a labeling law passes this session. “We don’t want to be the guinea pigs, or continue to be guinea pigs. We want to have choice,” said Zuckerman, who is also a farmer.

Like Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, are also considering labeling laws. The states of Maine and Connecticut have already passed laws requiring foods containing GMOs be labeled. However, the Vermont activists alleged those two states’ laws are not really laws, because they don’t actually take effect until a certain number of other states also pass labeling laws.

Zuckerman said he wants to see a GMO labeling bill that does not have a clause requiring other states to also pass laws. He acknowledged convincing some colleagues in the state Senate to take the leap will be a challenge.

The demonstrators said they bet biotech firms would spend lots of money fighting a national requirement.

In 2013, the popular Vermont-based ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s pledged to go GMO-free with its ingredient sourcing by mid-2014. Some engineered ingredients existed in certain ice cream mix-ins, like the corn syrup in marshmallow swirls, Chris Miller, the social mission activism manager for Ben & Jerry’s, told NECN in May of last year. “This is the right thing to do,” Miller said. “We’ll complete this conversion without having to raise the cost of a pint of ice cream or fundamentally impact the margins on the product.”

Some participants at the rally Thursday said they could take a bit of solace in knowing names like General Mills and Ben & Jerry’s recognize the concern many consumers have about GMOs. Participants said they will not let up with their push, until laws in Vermont ensure foods are fully labeled.

“This is a really fundamental issue,” Stander said. “More and more people are becoming aware of this issue; that there’s a difference between genetically-engineered food and non-genetically engineered food, but we can’t tell.”


Kennebec Journal: Supreme Court won’t hear Maine farmer’s appeal lawsuit against Monsanto

The farmers had filed a ‘pre-emptive’ lawsuit in case their fields ever became contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically modified, patented seeds.
1/14/14
By Meredith Goad
Full Article

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal filed by Maine farmers in a “pre-emptive lawsuit” against Monsanto that would have protected American and Canadian farmers from patent infringement lawsuits if their fields were ever accidentally contaminated by the biotech giant’s genetically-modified, patented seeds.

Dave Murphy, executive director of Food Democracy Now, an Iowa-based advocacy group that had joined Maine farmers in the suit, called the ruling “a great disappointment and a betrayal of the trust of America’s farmers and farmers all around the world.”

“It’s really an outrage that farmers cannot even get a day in court in America to protect themselves from the direct contamination and economic ruin of their crops and their livelihood from Monsanto’s patented, genetically engineered seeds,” Murphy said.

Jim Gerritsen, a potato seed farmer from Bridgewater who is president of the Maine-based Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, which filed the original suit in 2011, was out of town and unavailable for comment Monday.

But he acknowledged last fall that the chances of the case being heard by the Supreme Court were small.

Gerritsen’s group was joined in the case by a group of 83 American and Canadian organic and conventional family farmers, seed businesses and public advocacy groups around the country, including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity and Fedco Seeds in Clinton.

Gerritsen said in a news release that the Supreme Court had “failed to grasp the extreme predicament family farmers find themselves in.”

Farmers who were part of the lawsuit argued that if their crops are inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically-modified seed, that would open them up to charges of patent infringement and ruin their crops for export to countries where GMOs have been banned.

In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., sided with Monsanto, saying the farmers did have standing with the court, but Monsanto’s promises not to sue for patent infringement made their case moot.

The three justices who heard the case also ordered Monsanto not to sue farmers whose fields were contaminated with trace amounts of genetically-modified material.

The court defined trace amounts as 1 percent.

Gerritsen called that safeguard “insufficient to protect our farms and our families.”

According to Reuters, a Monsanto attorney said the company did not plan to sue for inadvertent use of its biotech seeds, but that it would not make a blanket promise to that effect.

Murphy said the plaintiffs may regroup and try again.

“We can certainly refile a case, change some of the farmers that are associated with it,” he said.

“This case did not have any farmers initially that had been contaminated with GMOs because we wanted it to be a pre-emptive effort to protect farmers from contamination and make sure that their economic interest in their farms and their organic seed stock was not harmed.”

Murphy said they would also continue to try to change the existing regulations governing GMOs at the state and federal level.


New York Times Op-Ed by Mark Bittman: How Many Cheers for Cheerios?

1/7/14
By Mark Bittman
Full Article

Well, a major and venerable American brand has gone and announced that it contains no genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.’s). Cheerios is G.M.O.-free! And will soon be labeled “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients.”

Do we care? Should we? Is this a cynical marketing ploy or a huge deal or both? (It certainly isn’t neither.)

Without question this could be the start of something big. That it has value to Cheerios and to anti-G.M.O. activists is also undoubtedly true; the question is whether it matters to the rest of us. It does; but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

First, let’s get this straight. Taking the G.M.O.’s out of Cheerios is only a little bit harder than taking them out of oatmeal: there are no G.M.O. oats, and Cheerios are, essentially, oats. (Well, hyper-processed oats.) They also contain small amounts of cornstarch and sugar, so its parent company, General Mills, has done little more than source non-G.M.O. cornstarch and cane rather than beet sugar to use in production. (There are G.M.O. beets, and almost all corn and soybeans grown in the United States use G.M.O. seeds, whose products find their way into most processed foods.) This is what they’ve done for years in most of Europe, where products with G.M.O.’s are almost universally labeled as such.

But it’s not as if General Mills — which was among the funders of the opposition to G.M.O.-labeling efforts in California and Washington — has made a principled decision, or has suddenly seen some kind of light. (Other varieties of Cheerios, such as Apple Cinnamon and Multi Grain, will continue to be made with ingredients containing G.M.O.’s, including corn, corn syrup, beet sugar and others.) It could simply be that the company saw an opportunity to appease part of its market, and to test whether a minimal effort could lead to a labeling opportunity that would boost sales as would, say, a “high-fiber” or cholesterol-reduction notice.

But the label is only meaningless in terms of Cheerios’ content. My guess is that General Mills is right: the G.M.O.-free label will appeal to consumers who, for whatever reasons — justified or not — would rather buy a G.M.O.-free product. Increased sales might come at the expense of other Cheerios products, but then again they might come at the expense of competitors’ cereals that can’t brag about their “purity.” (Let’s remember that few, if any, health-savvy breakfast-eating people would make Cheerios a frequent choice in any case— even if they are easy for toddlers to nibble on.)

Should we care? Yes. Much of the controversy over G.M.O.’s is being fought between those with a vested interest in their success and those who are willing to overstate the problems with the technology. Producing seeds containing G.M.O.’s is a valid scientific technique. The problem is that the benefits have accrued more to the seeds’ producers than to farmers (who are spending many times more for seeds than they were previously) or consumers (who can’t possibly tell the source of refined products in their processed foods) or to the environment. There’s an argument that G.M.O. seeds increase yields and keep food costs down, but it’s not a convincing one.

There are three real issues here, and none of them is about whether there are teeny tiny G.M.O. ingredients in our food. One is that G.M.O. seeds have arguably done more harm than good, by making traditional farming more expensive for farmers — not only here but internationally — and by retarding progress in combating weeds and bugs ecologically in industrial farming.

Another issue, and I’ve written about this before, is transparency. Increasingly, people want to know how and with what their food is being produced. (Over 90 percent of Americans are in favor of G.M.O. labeling.)

This brings us to the third issue, one about which I’m not happy. If opportunistic marketers like those at General Mills can cash in by making insignificant changes in their products that lead to significant marketing benefits, what happens to people who’ve actually put work into making their products significantly cleaner — that is, organic? Once you have an “organic” label, you are forbidden to put “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients” on your package — that’s theoretically understood, as are more important benefits, like antibiotic- and pesticide-free. But thanks to the way-too-loud G.M.O. screaming match, my guess is that it’s easier to market food using a meaningless “G.M.O.-free” label than an organic label. That’s not a cheery thought.


Kennebec Journal: LePage signs bill to label genetically modified food

Maine becomes the second state to pass a law requiring food producers to label GMO food, but other states must follow before it goes into effect.

By Steve Mistler

Friday, January 10, 2014

Full Article

Gov. Paul LePage has signed a bill that would require food producers to label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. The law makes Maine the second state in the country to pass such a measure. However, other states must adopt similar legislation before Maine’s labeling provision goes into effect.

The governor promised last year to sign the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington. His signature is symbolic because legislative rules don’t allow the law to go into effect until the Legislature adjourns later this year. However, supporters of the bill hailed the law’s eventual passage as a victory for advocates of laws mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. Such proposals have been introduced in nearly 30 states as part of a national effort to compel Congress to enact a comprehensive labeling law.

Previous GMO labeling efforts have been staunchly opposed by agribusiness and the biotech food products industry, which have also spent millions to defeat ballot measures and state legislation. Industry argues that labeling genetically engineered products unfairly stigmatizes modified foods despite a dearth of scientific research proving that they are any less healthful than those that are grown conventionally.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 70 percent of the products sold in American supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients. The Food and Drug Administration regulates genetically modified foods, but regulators have left testing to the industry that is producing them.

Maine Conservation Voters’ Executive Director Maureen Drouin said in a news statement that the new law “will give Maine people the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they and their families eat.”

“We are thrilled that Gov. Le- Page has signed the GMO labeling bill,” said Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Executive Director Ted Quaday. “MOFGA supporters have worked tirelessly, organizing five different legislative campaigns on this issue since the early 1990s. The time was right for a diverse and collaborative effort to take hold and move the discussion forward. People want and have the right to know what’s in their food.”

Still, the Maine GMO labeling law faces another challenge. The law doesn’t go into effect unless five contiguous states, including New Hampshire, pass labeling laws. Late last year, the prospects of a New Hampshire law dimmed when a committee broke along party lines to oppose a labeling measure there.

The New Hampshire Legislature will take up the bill this winter.

The national battle over labeling laws has pitted activists in the organic food movement against a consortium led by the biotech industry and corporate food producers, such as General Mills, Nestle USA and Monsanto.

It appeared that industry heavyweights were initially taken aback by activists who introduced labeling legislation this year in at least 30 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, reports from New Hampshire indicate that the industry has rallied and become more effective.

The provision requiring passage in contiguous states was added to the Maine bill to help build broad support.

Proponents of the bill said the provision would quell concerns about an almost-certain lawsuit by industry groups and Monsanto, which vowed to challenge the laws in Maine and Connecticut on the basis that they violate the free speech and interstate commerce provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

Already 64 countries around the world label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, including all of Europe, Russia, China, Brazil, India and Saudi Arabia.