GMO Food Labels Being Considered by Mass. Lawmakers
BOSTON/State House - The Massachusetts legislature is currently reviewing three bills this session that may lead to food products containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) to carry identifying labels.
In a public hearing Tuesday the Joint Committee on Public Health considered testimony for and against the bills, while about 150 anti-GMO protestors filled the hearing room after a short rally outside the State House.
Jack Kittredge, policy director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association, told Open Media Boston, “the issue of labeling GMO food has been around for quite a while. GMO food … began entering the market almost 20 years ago, and a number of people have been associating that with a number of human health problems ever since, and more and more people are now concerned….”
In testimony to the Committee, Gregory Costa, director of state affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said, “given that the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and numerous other scientific and regulatory bodies have determined that food products containing genetically-modified ingredients are safe, and that their material are no different from their traditional counterparts, a mandatory label [stating] there’s genetically modified ingredients in the product does not provide the consumer with any useful information or actionable information….”
The FDA currently does not require mandatory labeling, but it does issue guidelines to industry on voluntary labeling of goods containing GMOs, where:
• A bioengineered food is significantly different from its traditional counterpart,
• If an issue exists for the food or a constituent of the food regarding how the food is used or consequences of its use,
• If a bioengineered food has a significantly different nutritional property,
• If a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present based on the name of the food.
Kittredge explained the push for food labeling further, saying “the idea is that people want to be able to have it clear on any kind of food that they buy whether it’s genetically modified or not, in which case I expect most of them would refuse to buy it, or buy something else, and that would change the whole market around.”
Asked by the committee why the GMA doesn’t support labeling, Costa said, “we shouldn’t label it, because it’s a warning label, because this food is indistinguishable from non-GMO food in its nutrition, and its safety … the question can be asked in reverse as well: why is it so important that we have this new label if there is no difference?”
Similar legislation has this week passed in Connecticut mandating labels on food produced using GMOs to say, “Produced with Genetic Engineering.”
The legislation in that state has a so-called ‘trigger clause’ to counteract the commercial disadvantages caused to businesses there, which requires at least four other states to enact a similar law, with one of those states bordering Connecticut.
Maine also passed a law requiring labeling of GMO-containing foods this week, and Vermont is among other states considering similar legislation.
Ed Stockman of MA Right to Know GMOs told Open Media Boston, “the biotech industry is really resisting labeling … and maybe it has to do with the fact that when they suggested, or had labeling in Europe, consumers stopped buying their products, so they’re concerned from that perspective, but we feel … that we have a right to know and we deserve to know….”
Costa pointed out to the committee that the option to not eat food products using GMOs already exists, saying, “this legislation is based on a matter of consumer choice; individuals who’ve made a personal decision not to consume foods containing genetically-modified ingredients can easily avoid those products by purchasing products that are certified organic.”
Costa declined to be interviewed in person by Open Media Boston.
While the human health impacts of biotechnology are still heavily debated, many people gave testimony claiming significant health issues caused by GMOs, including gastro-intestinal problems, cancer, and even autism.
In written testimony to the Committee, Martin Dagoberto Driggs of MA Right to Know GMOs said that the Bay State bills are part of “national movement toward a more transparent and democratic food system.”
In a prepared statement given to Open Media Boston on behalf of a number of industry groups, including the GMA, Andrew Goodrich said, “…an unnecessary labeling program … will cause undue alarm and confuse Massachusetts consumers in the process.”
The bills being considered are H. 1936, H. 2037, and H. 2093 proposed by Rep. Stephen DiNatale (D-Fitchburg), Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst), and Rep. Michael Moran (D-Brighton) respectively.