How would you like to eat an eel-salmon hybrid? Support farmers selling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and you can do just that. Prefer to eat your eel-salmon hybrid without knowing that’s what you’re eating? Don’t support labeling GMOs and you can do that too.
This is the argument that a coalition of organic farmers and political leaders in Maine are making in favor of passing LD 718, An Act to Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock, slated to move through this spring’s legislative session, according to State Representative, Brian Jones (D-Freedom), one of the bill’s 123 co-sponsors.
“It’s real simple,” said Jones, “people should know what’s in their food.”
Genetically modified foods, which according to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), are crops engineered to contain DNA from different organisms than themselves to speed growth and enhance yield, make up over 75% of all processed foods found in supermarkets today. The five major genetically altered crops are corn, soy, sugar beets, canola, and cotton.
The bill, which “requires disclosure of genetic engineering at the point of retail sale,” resides in the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, and found its way into the legislative process through its original sponsor, State Representative Lance Harvell (R-Farmington). Exemptions to the disclosure requirement include restaurant food, alcoholic beverages, and medical food.
In order for the labeling mandate to become effective, the bill also says that five other states or a state with a combined population of 20 million people or more have to adopt similar legislation.
To help the legislation pass in Maine MOFGA has spearheaded a campaign called Right to Know GMO Maine, which is aimed at educating consumers on what GMOs are, and at helping constituents make contact with representatives who have already signed onto the bill as a co-sponsor.
“Reliable, peer-reviewed scientific data on the health and environmental impacts of genetically engineered foods do not exist and until they do, I think people have a right to choose to avoid GMOs in their foods due to this uncertainty,” said Jessie Dowling, one of the campaign’s lead organizers.
Both Dowling and Jones point out that there are labeling mandates for arbitrary ingredients like food dye, and neither could offer explanation on why GMOs should be any different.
Now that the bill is moving out of Committee and into the realm of public hearings, scheduled for 1:00pm on April 23rd in Augusta’s Cross Building (Room 214), Dowling suggests that citizens who want to see it pass should contact their legislators, write a letter to the editor of their local paper, and/or discuss the implications of LD 718 with attended groups like knitting circles or local churches.
According to Jones public hearings allow citizens to submit either oral or written testimony, which he says people will show up to offer if they want to see this legislation pass.