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Should Maine Require Labeling for Genetically Modified Food?

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

Augusta - The national debate over genetically modified food moved to the State House on Tuesday, pitting agribusiness, grocers and some Maine farmers against a well-organized group of organic farmers and national food-safety advocates seeking to opt out of the "GMO experiment."

More than 100 people signed up to testify before lawmakers on L.D. 718, a bill that would require food retailers to label products containing genetically modified seeds or ingredients. Sponsored by Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, the bill also would prohibit retailers from labeling a product as "natural" if it contained GMOs. GMO stands for "genetically modified organism."

Current Maine law allows retailers to voluntarily label their products as certified organic or "GMO-free."

Supporters of L.D. 718 argued that consumers have the right to know if they're buying food that has been bioengineered - its DNA has been spliced with that of an unrelated plant, animal, bacterium or virus.

Opponents countered that the bill unfairly stigmatizes farmers who sell genetically modified produce despite a dearth of scientific research proving that such products are any less healthful than those conventionally grown. They also cited a 2012 position by the American Medical Association that found no evidence that bioengineered foods are more dangerous than conventional foods.

Advocates of the bill said Tuesday that scientific evidence is emerging that genetically modified foods can increase health risks and food allergies. They said there is a lack of scientific studies proving health risks because federal regulators have left testing up to the biotech industry that is producing and profiting from genetically modified products, which have been in the domestic food supply for nearly 20 years.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates genetically modified foods but does not approve them. The agency assumes the foods are safe until confronted with evidence that they're not.

"If you're not going to test it, at least label it," Harvell said. "If we're involved in this grand experiment of being turned into lab rats, we should at least know about it."

Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, the policy advocacy division of Consumer Reports, has worked on labeling legislation in Congress. He told lawmakers Tuesday that federal regulators have ceded review of genetically modified products to ensure that the industry -- not the government -- is legally liable if health problems surface.  

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