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Measure to Require GMO Labeling Advances in Mass. Statehouse

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Genetic Engineering Page, Millions Against Monsanto Page and our Massachusetts News Page.

BOSTON -- A state law that would require genetically engineered food and seeds to be labeled on packages and on shelves has cleared a major hurdle.

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture approved the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act during an executive session on Wednesday, the final day for the legislation to be approved by the committee before the next session.

At the Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington on Tuesday, dozens of people signed an online petition in support of the legislation.

"It's a big step forward," said state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, who sits on the committee.

"It appears to be just what we are looking for," she said. "Numerous constituents are really pushing for this stuff. I myself want to know what I eat."

The law requires all packaged food with genetically engineered food to be labeled as such, and any raw agricultural food that is unpackaged, to be labeled on the store shelf or bin. It defines genetically engineered material as any process to develop food through cell fusion, DNA technology or any method not possible under natural conditions using traditional breeding, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization or tissue culture.

The passage through the joint committee, which includes members of the state Senate and House, is a crucial step toward getting the bill in front of the full Legislature.

The bill approved on Wednesday carves out genetically engineered labeling exemptions for farm products sold by a farmer or farmer's agent at a farmers market, roadside stand, or pick-your-own farm; restaurant food; processed food meant for immediate consumption and alcoholic beverages. Food from an animal that was fed genetically engineered food does not have to be labeled as genetically engineered, under the legislation.

The bill didn't include a proposed provision that would have stripped the natural label from food with genetically modified organism food.

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who is also on the committee, said he voted to move the bill forward this week.

"It's a step in the right direction for Massachusetts, making sure consumers have all of the information they are entitled to," he said.

Martin Dagoberto, campaign coordinator for MA Right to Know GMOs, which helped lobby for the legislation said he was "feeling pretty good" about Wednesday's news.

Under the bill passed in the joint committee on Wednesday, four other states with a combined population totaling 20 million, would have to approve similar legislation in order for the law to take effect. So far, Connecticut and Maine have passed such laws. There is a bill in the Vermont Legislature that has passed the House, Dagoberto said.

Dagoberto said the requirements for other states to pass the law are intended to boost confidence in the measures in the face of a threatened lawsuit by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has been lobbying against the bills. A message left with the organization's Washington D.C. office was not returned as of press time.   
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