Senate follows House in strong support of GMO food labeling

The State House in Augusta.
The State House in Augusta.
Posted June 12, 2013, at 5:29 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Support for mandating that genetically modified foods bear labels in Maine was as strong Wednesday in the Senate as it was Tuesday in the House, with lawmakers from both parties supporting the measure.

Passage of the bill, LD 718, means that genetically modified food products would carry labels that state “Produced with Genetic Engineering,” but only if four states contiguous to Maine pass similar laws. Connecticut recently passed a GMO labeling bill similar to Maine’s.

Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, said in a long floor speech that while health hazards caused by genetically modified foods or seed stock have not been proven, there are strong indications that they exist. Johnson said he supports the bill so Mainers will know what they are eating regardless of what the science says.

“People can only manage their risk when they know what they are buying,” said Johnson, echoing similar debate Tuesday in the House. “Everyone has a right to decide for themselves about the food they buy and what they feed their families.”

Others questioned whether passing such a bill would put Maine in hot water.

“There is a real legal issue here,” said Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, who cited other states such as Hawaii that have passed similar legislation. “It’s clear to me that they feel there will be a test to their law. I ask if the course we’re on is the proper course for Maine. … Can we guarantee that we have the means to properly police this? We need to be better educated but I don’t believe that just sticking a label on a package will do that.”

Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, said he shared the concerns but supported the bill anyway, partially in honor of the late Russ Libby, former leader of the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, who was a tireless champion for organic foods. Libby died in December 2012.

“I know he wants this bill, which is why I’m voting for it,” said Saviello. “He’s now farming the great organic garden in the sky.”

The bill, An Act to Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right to Know about Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock, faces more procedural votes before being sent to Gov. Paul LePage.

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