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Measure to send GMO-labeling to voters earns initial House approval

Dunphy’s proposal would require food with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled

March 24, 2016

AUGUSTA – The Maine House gave initial approval Thursday to Rep. Michelle Dunphy’s proposal to let voters decide whether genetically modified foods should be labeled. The vote was 85-59.

“Mainers have a right to know what is in the food we feed our families,” said Dunphy, D-Old Town. “I feel it’s time to send this issue to the people of the state of Maine and let them decide.”

Dunphy’s proposal would allow Mainers to decide at the ballot box whether food sold in the state that includes genetically modified ingredients should be labeled. An existing law requires genetically modified organisms to be labeled only if four other contiguous states pass similar measures before 2018. Dunphy wants to repeal the trigger and the sunset clause, which would make labeling mandatory in Maine as soon as the law goes into effect.

“Just like labels that require disclosure of farm-raised salmon or orange juice from concentrate, labeling of GE [genetically engineered] food will provide consumers the information they need to make choices for themselves and their families,” Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Vermont-based ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s, wrote in his testimony to the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee last year, adding that Ben & Jerry’s makes frequent changes to labeling and could easily accommodate such a law.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Deputy Director Heather Spalding and Organic Consumers Association Associate Director Katherine Paul, testified in support of labeling food containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Hundreds of people attended the public hearing last April.

“For decades, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has been leading the fight in Maine for good food, good farming and demanding transparency in labeling food made from GMO crops,” said Spalding, who also pointed out that beverage labels have successfully accommodated Maine’s bottle deposit law as evidence that food distributors can tailor labels to state law.

Under the alternative proposal advancing in the Legislature, lawmakers would decide whether to extend the trigger clause, which is set to expire in 2018, to the year 2022 but would not otherwise change current law.

The bill, LD 991, faces further consideration in both the House and Senate. If Dunphy’s proposal passes, the question will be sent to referendum for Mainers to decide at the ballot box in November.

Dunphy is serving her first term in the Maine House. She represents Old Town and Penobscot Indian Island.

Contact:

Ann Kim [Dunphy], c. 233-1838