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Legislators Endorse GMO Labels for Maine Food

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Maine News page.

AUGUSTA - Despite concerns any law forcing food producers to label products containing genetically modified organisms could lead to a challenge in the courts, the Legislatures's Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee approved a labeling measure on an 8-3 vote Tuesday.

The bill, LD 718, offered by Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, wouldn't go into full effect until 2018 and only after four of the nine northeastern states approve similar laws.

A genetically modified organism is a plant or animal that is created with the use of gene splicing. Advocates for organic food products have said foods made with GMOs have been linked to "thousands of toxic and allergenic reactions," although others claim the science is incomplete.

Proponents of labeling say consumers, at a minimum, should have the right to know what's in their food. The most common genetically modified foods in the U.S. include soybeans and corn.

The committee approved the bill despite a carefully worded warning by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills.

Mills told the committee Tuesday that while public opinion polls may indicate strong support for GMO labeling laws, those measures could be challenged by opponents as being in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

"The First Amendment applies both to laws compelling speech and to laws restricting speech," Mills said.

Mills also said a labeling law could violate the federal government's right to regulate interstate commerce and it could be preempted by existing federal food labeling regulations.

Mills was careful to note that the Legislature could still pass the law but they should plan to anticipate mounting a legal defense to it as it would be challenged.

She further warned the state could be left paying the legal fees of opponents to the bill if a federal judge ruled against the state law.