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Mass. Considers GMO Labeling Laws

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

BOSTON - The debate over whether foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, should have to be labeled as such is picking up steam. This month, Connecticut became the first state to pass a GMO labeling law, and Maine quickly followed. But due to lobbying by opponents, neither law will take effect unless several other states adopt similar legislation - and Massachusetts may become one of those.

Five GMO labeling bills are pending here, and WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer discussed the issue with Ed Stockman, of the group Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs, and Louis Finkel, executive vice president for government affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Sacha Pfeiffer: Ed, would you start by giving us some sense of how widespread genetically modified ingredients are in the foods we buy?

Ed Stockman: Well it's really difficult to know that for certain because the foods are not labeled. If they were labeled, we'd know exactly how ubiquitous they are. But there are estimates that within 70 percent of processed foods in supermarkets have some ingredients that have been genetically engineered.

And Louis, does the Grocery Manufacturers Association generally agree with that estimate of 75 percent or so?   

Louis Finkel: Well, I think it's probably someplace between 70 to 80 percent. But to the question of whether or not we know how much genetically engineered ingredient is out there, the Department of Agriculture tracks how much is planted every year. And with corn, soy beans and sugar beets, the current USDA estimates are over 90 percent. So any products that contain those ingredients, which are the majority of packaged products in the grocery store, that's probably about right. Products that contain sugar, that contain soy and soy extracts and oils, that contain canola, that contain oils from cottonseed - which are primary ingredients for many products, or at least partial ingredients for many products - contain those, which are all genetically engineered.

Louis, the Grocery Manufacturers Association opposes labeling. Why is that?

Louis Finkel: Let's start with fact that this is prevalent, it's been in marketplace for 20 years, and we've seen no health impacts - that, effectively, the technology is safe. And this isn't me saying this. This is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This is the American Medical Association. This is the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the World Health Organization - that genetically engineered ingredients provide no material difference from their conventional counterparts and, as such, putting a label will be inherently misleading and confusing to consumers.    
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