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Maine House Approves GMO Labeling Bill Amendment

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AUGUSTA, MaineJust a week after Connecticut lawmakers gave their blessing to a bill that would require the labeling of genetically-engineered food, Maine's House of Representatives endorsed similar legislation. Next up: a vote from the state Senate on the legislation.

By a margin of 141 to 4, lawmakers voted in favor of an amendment that would trigger the labeling requirement if four other contiguous states pass similar laws, The Bangor Daily News reported. Under the original bill, the legislation would only take effect if five other states anywhere in the country or a combination of states with a total population of at least 20 million people passed similar measures, according to the newspaper. The legislation faces votes in the Senate and an additional vote in the House, the report said.

"Maine's momentous vote rides on the wave of the growing movement for GE labeling in New England and across the country, and symbolizes the common sentiment by consumers everywhere for greater transparency in our food," said Katrina Staves, Campaign Manager for Just Label It, an organization that supports labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

According to Just Label It, the bill would require labeling of genetically-engineered food and seed stock that is sold in Maine.

South of Maine, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy plans to sign a GMO bill that includes a number of caveats before it takes effect. Not only must four states including one that borders Connecticut pass similar bills, GMO bills must be passed by any combination of Northeastern states representing at least 20 million people.

If Malloy signs the legislation, Connecticut will become the first state to place a GMO bill on the books. It might have some company. More than 20 states, including Vermont and Washington, are said to be considering GMO legislation.

Don't expect the federal agency that regulates food in interstate commerce to do the same. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not imposed a labeling requirement for GMO foods. It considers such food to be as safe as conventional food.

Others disagree, citing research linking GMOs to allergies and other adverse health effects impacting humans and the environment.

Even lawmakers on Capitol Hill have shown interest in a federal requirement, as reflected by legislation that was recently introduced in Congress. The Genetically-Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act would require labels for genetically-engineered whole and processed foods including fish and seafood. Most co-sponsors of the legislation introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) are on the left.

If the legislation was passed by Congress, America would join 64 other countries that require the labeling of genetically-modified foods. Those countries include Australia, China, Japan, Russia, New Zealand and all the member countries of the European Union.

Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, expressed his support for a federal GMO labeling bill.

"A state-by-state solution is a bad way to regulate commerce. "It's really difficult to sell your product if you have a different labeling requirement in different states," he said. "We as an industry need to recognize this as a priority. We need a national solution."

Not to mention the likelihood that any state GMO labeling bill will face legal challenges, possibly on grounds that such requirements are preempted by federal law and expressly within FDA's jurisdiction. 

Last month, a Vermont lawmaker speculated that his state passing the first GMO bill would lead to a lawsuit.

The only problem I have with it is that Im sure it will be challenged in court and will cost probably a couple million dollars to defend it, win, lose or draw," Vermont State Rep. Tony Koch, a Republican, told the International Business Times. And thats my problem. I think we have a good chance of losing."

Supporters of GMO labeling maintain consumers have a right to know what is in their food, and polls show that most Americans are in favor of such a requirement, according to Just Label It.

"I believe that when a mother goes to the store and buys food for her child she has the right to know what she is feeding her child," U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said in a statement when the federal legislation was announced.

The labeling requirements have been met with opposition from certain corporations including Monsanto Company. According to Monsantothe St. Louis-based company that has invented a number of genetically-modified cropshundreds of independent scientific experts and dozens of governments have concluded that food produced through genetic engineering is safe.

"We oppose current initiatives to mandate labeling of ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks. Such mandatory labeling could imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts," the company explains on its website.

Last year, as Californians prepared to vote on Proposition 37, Monsanto poured millions of dollars in contributions to defeat the measure. The money was well spent: Prop 37 failed although the measure emboldened other states to propose similar labeling requirements.

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