Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are a hot topic in Maine and across the nation. A new bill could speed implementation of Maine’s historic GMO food labeling law. For decades the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) has been leading the fight in Maine for good food, good farming and demanding transparency in labeling food made from GMO crops. Of course, several hundred Maine family farmers are growing MOFGA-certified organic crops that are free of GMOs because genetic engineering is a prohibited practice in organic farming.
In 2013, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) organized Maine’s Right to Know – GMO coalition, which gained legislative and gubernatorial approval of mandatory labeling of foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The law is the result of decades of organizing, research, citizen lobbying and all-around collaboration among citizens from all walks of Maine life. This year Maine legislators will have an opportunity to learn even more about GMOs in food and agriculture, and consider options for a speedier implementation of Maine’s landmark GMO labeling law.
LD 991 – An Act To Amend Maine’s Genetically Modified Food Products Labeling Law – seeks to eliminate a requirement in established law that five contiguous states, including Maine, adopt legislation similar to Maine’s. Connecticut and Vermont already have adopted GMO labeling laws. A bill in the Massachusetts Legislature has broad bi-partisan support. A legislative committee in New Hampshire has been studying the issue.
MOFGA began the 2013 effort confident that Maine could go it alone. When one considers the obvious example of beverage bottles and cans bearing deposit information unique to Maine, it’s clear that labeling can be tailored effectively in interstate commerce. We reluctantly accepted the compromise of a regional compact after lengthy discussions with a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, including Governor LePage and many members of the House and Senate. While we didn’t get all we wanted, we were happy that Maine would establish a law that would eventually assure consumers’ right to know. It was extremely gratifying to see such widespread, non-partisan support for labeling.
Poll after poll shows that over 90% of Mainers want their right to know. MOFGA will continue to work with citizens across the Northeast to ensure that they have the right to know what’s in their foods.
Consumers should be aware that genetic engineering is a prohibited method under USDA National Organic Program standards. Right now consumers may look for the certified organic label, as assurance of good food grown without genetic engineering. “Maine” plus “Certified Organic” is the best choice for consumers and is available at farmers’ markets, farmstands and retail outlets from Fort Kent to Kittery.
It’s no secret that MOFGA opposes the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture and advocates for significant changes in the regulatory framework governing this insidious and flawed technology. MOFGA-certified organic farmers cannot and will not use seeds, plants or animal feeds that have been genetically engineered to incorporate foreign genetic material from other species.
We believe that there are serious questions about the health and environmental risks of GMO foods. The system of federal regulation of GMO crops is dysfunctional. GMOs have not increased yields or improved tolerance to drought. GMOs have increased the use of herbicides, created herbicide resistant super-weeds on 60 million acres of American farmland, contaminated non-GMO crops, contributed to the decline of many beneficial pollinators and non-target insects such as Monarch butterflies. They are also creating pest resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) – an important tool for organic farmers.
Despite extensive concerns and emerging problems associated with GMOs in agriculture, the federal government continues to allow companies to create and distribute more and more GMO crops, with no requirements for environmental or human health testing.
It is essential that Maine defend its mandatory GMO labeling law. As Representative Chellie Pingree advised Mainers two years ago, it is wise for states to establish mandatory GMO-labeling laws because Congress is unlikely to do it any time soon. Currently Congress is considering one bill that would require mandatory labeling nationally, and another that would preempt a state’s right to require mandatory labeling. Concerned citizens must engage in these discussions but we must not lose ground in Maine.