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Maine Agriculture Committee Votes to Pass GMO Labeling Bill

Submitted by Food Democracy Now on May 14, 2013 - 3:45pm

By Ramona Du Houx,

The Maine Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry (ACF) Committee voted this afternoon to support LD 718, An Act To Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right to Know about Genetically Engineered Food. The vote came three weeks after a public hearing in which almost 100 people submitted testimony in favor of labeling foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“We are thrilled and inspired by the ACF’s vote this afternoon,” said Heather Spalding, Interim Executive Director at MOFGA. “We fully expect pushback from the biotech industry and recognize that they are already throwing their weight around in Maine. But we will not be bullied by an industry that hides the truth from the public. If their technology is so safe and has such promise, why don’t they let the world know about it with simple labeling?”

Despite overwhelming public support for labeling, and a record 123 legislative co-sponsors of the bill, the ACF Committee waited to hear the opinion of the State’s Attorney General Janet Mills. Today she asserted that, if enacted, the law would be certain to face legal challenges on constitutional grounds. However, she did not say unequivocally that the bill was unconstitutional. Rather, she cautioned that the Legislature carefully consider first amendment, commerce clause, and preemption concerns that the biotech industry would use in a lawsuit against the state.

The ACF passed the bill by a vote of 8 to 4.

Supporters of the bill included: Senator Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), Chair of ACF; Senator James Boyle (D-Cumberland); Representative James Dill (D-Old Town), Chair of ACF; Representative Peter Kent (D-Woolwich); Representative Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop); Representative Brian Jones (D-Freedom); Representative William Noon (D-Sanford); and Representative Robert Saucier (D-Presque Isle).

Opponents included: Representative Dean Cray (R-Palmyra); Representative Donald Marean (R-Hollis); Representative Russell Black (R-Wilton); and Representative Jeffrey Timberlake (R-Turner).

Senator Roger Sherman (R-Aroostook) was absent.

The ACF now waits for language review before sending the bill for votes in the House and Senate.

Already 62 countries around the world label foods that contain GMO ingredients, including all of Europe, Russia, China, India and South Africa. Maine can be a leader in the United States by passing this important legislation and creating a model for other states.

In Congress on April 24th U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Peter DeFazio introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, legislation that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clearly label genetically engineered foods know as genetically modified organisms, (GMOs), so that consumers can make informed choices about what they buy.

Maine’s Congressman Chellie Pingree is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“GMO labeling is an issue I’ve cared deeply about for a long time and is one of the things I hear most often about from constituents,” said Pingree. “I think people have a right to know exactly what they’re feeding themselves and their families. The choice of whether to eat GMO food is best left to the consumer–but there’s no choice to make if we don’t provide them the information.”

Meanwhile a Supreme Court Ruling will have an impact in Maine. On Monday the justices ruled that farmers must pay Monsanto each time they plant the company’s genetically modified soybeans thus rejecting an Indiana farmer’s argument that his unorthodox techniques did not violate the company’s patent.

Farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman asserted that because the company’s herbicide-resistent Roundup Ready soybeans replicate themselves, he was not violating the company’s patent by planting progeny seeds he bought elsewhere. But the justices unanimously rejected that claim, with Justice Elena Kagan writing there is no such “seeds-are-special” exception to the law.

While the case was about centered on soybeans, the broader issue is about patent protection. Makers of vaccines, cell lines, software and other products might be considered self-replicating. Corporations worried that their investments would be threatened if patents were honored only on the first sale of self-replicating products. This legal doctrine is called patent exhaustion and means that companies would have no control over their products once they have been sold. As modern technologies continue to evolve so will the issue at the Supreme Court.

Originally published: Maine Insights.

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