Committee unanimously passes GMO labeling bill


BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Food containing genetically modified organisms would need to be labeled as such under legislation that unanimously cleared committee on Thursday.

Alcoholic beverages, restaurant food and farm products sold at a farmer’s market would be exempt from the requirement, according to a summary of the redrafted bill (H 3242).

Mandatory labeling has the support of a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate, and the bill cleared the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on a 13-0 vote in a poll that ended Thursday.

Supporters of the legislation have generally argued food consumers have a right to know whether genetically modified ingredients are present in the products they are eating even without any evidence that the GMOs are harmful. Supporters of the bill also believe voluntary labeling does not go far enough.

“If people want to know what’s in their food we should be able to have labels on the food,” House Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing told the News Service in September.

A coalition announced its opposition to the bill in September. The coalition includes the Massachusetts Association of Dairy Farmers, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Seed-giant Monsanto in a statement on its website says it opposes labeling requirements “in the absence of any demonstrated risks, as it could be interpreted as a warning or imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts.”

Monsanto said the Food and Drug Administration requires labeling of genetically modified food products “if there is a meaningful difference between that food and its conventional counterpart,” and said the American Medical Association has stated “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of foods containing [genetically modified] ingredients.”

Deirdre Cummings, the legislative director for MASSPIRG, which has pushed for the legislation, told the News Service additional work needs to be done to make sure the bill aligns with laws passed in other states “so we avoid a patchwork.”

“This is good news for consumers in Massachusetts,” said Cummings, calling the committee vote a “great first step.”

“It’s on the House side now. Hopefully they’ll move it quickly,” Sen. Anne Gobi, co-chair of the committee, told the News Service.

Food would be labeled under the bill if the genetically modified portions account for more than roughly 1 percent of the total weight of processed food, according to the summary. Food produced in part with genetic engineering would be barred from being labeled as “natural,” according to the bill summary.

Broad support among lawmakers does not guarantee legislation would make it to the governor’s desk or even reach the floor for a vote. According to its backers, the GMO labeling bill has the support of about three quarters of the Legislature.

Cummings said Maine, Connecticut and Vermont have passed similar laws, and Vermont’s will go into effect July 1. The bill that cleared committee includes a trigger that Cummings said would require New York to pass a similar law before the Massachusetts legislation could take effect. She said Vermont taking the lead negates the requirement for states to take the step as a group.

The U.S. House passed legislation last year that would pre-empt states from GMO labeling requirements, according to Cummings, who said a U.S. Senate committee recently passed a similar bill. She said U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are in favor of mandatory GMO labeling.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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