Maine made headlines this week as it became the second state after Connecticut to require labeling of genetically modified foods — days after the food industry began a renewed push to make GMO labeling voluntary.
Gov. Paul LePage (R) signed the new legislation with a major provision: The law won’t go into effect until five states contiguous to Maine pass similar labeling measures.
“That provision was necessary, the bill’s backers said, to build a broad base of support,” reports The Washington Post, which noted that it is similar to a GMO labeling bill, passed in Connecticut last month, that won’t take effect until a combination of Northeastern states comprised of 20 million residents pass similar laws.
New Hampshire’s legislature is expected to take up GMO labeling bill this year. Colorado and Oregon are also expected to consider such initiatives.
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In addition to the potentially long lead times inherent in these types of provisions, labeling supporters face the challenge of dealing with opposition from the food and biotech industries. Maine’s Portland Press Herald predicts that industry groups and corporations such as Monsanto, General Mills, and Nestle USA will challenge labeling laws in court.
The Press Herald said a lawsuit was “almost-certain”; Monsanto has “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.”
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Additionally, food producers argue that there is a distinct lack of evidence that GMOs — which are found in more than half of American crops and roughly 70 percent of processed foods — are harmful. But although concrete proof of health hazards is lacking, critics and health experts say there is reason to link GMO consumption with leaky gut, food allergies, and endocrine disruption, among other problems.
“When there are so few studies done on the safety of GMOs in people, we have to act like detectives. We have to weigh anecdotal evidence, case studies and theoretical dangers to build our case,” Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, told Experience Life in 2013. “Put it all together, and even from the most conservative viewpoint there is a stunning implication of harm.”
GMOs are found in such commonplace foods and drinks as corn chips, canola oil, soy milk, cereal, and baking powder.
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The food industry has proposed its own solution to the labeling controversy: A federal law that would make GMO labeling voluntary.
Politico reported this week that the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a lobby group that represents ConAgra, PepsiCo, Kraft, and other food and beverage producers, is “advocating for an industry-friendly law with a voluntary federal standard.” The proposal would preemptively quash future labeling mandates and protect corporations from fighting costly legal battles on the state level, Politico reported.
Meanwhile, some corporations are making efforts to remove GMOs from their products without legislative arm-twisting. Last week General Mills announced that it has removed all GMOs from it’s original Cheerios (other popular varieties of the cereal, such as Honey Nut Cheerios, still contain genetically modified ingredients).
Tell us: Do you think GMO food labeling should be required by law? Or should labeling by food producers be voluntary? Leave a comment below or tweet us @ExperienceLife.