GMO Labeling Bill Exposes Rift between Maine, National Organic Trade Groups

By Brino, Anthony | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), July 15, 2016 | Go to article overview

GMO Labeling Bill Exposes Rift between Maine, National Organic Trade Groups


Brino, Anthony, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


A membership group of organic seed growers led by Bridgewater farmer Jim Gerritsen has split ranks with a large national organic trade group in a dispute over how best to require labeling of foods made with genetically engineered crops.

The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association withdrew its membership from the Organic Trade Association on July 13 following the latter group's support of legislation passed in the U.S. House and Senate that would override state labeling laws for food made with genetically engineered crops and replace them with a national set of rules.

Gerritsen, from the Wood Prairie Farm, argues the legislation would threaten the integrity of organic farming, which prohibits genetic engineering and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. And he said he and his fellow organic seed growers in OSGATA feel sold out by the OTA for supporting the bill.

The legislation would give food makers three options to disclose that products contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants: a plain language statement, a symbol to be created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or an electronic QR code that people would look up with smartphones.

The bill, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign, would prohibit state-level GE-labeling laws, such as the Vermont law that took effect July 1 requiring the label "produced with genetic engineering." Alaska, Connecticut and Maine also have enacted labeling laws, though they have not taken effect. Maine's label requirements can't take effect until four other contiguous states adopt similar measures.

Gerritsen argues the national legislation has too many legal ambiguities and no penalties for companies that don't meet requirements and would "fail to guarantee on-package product transparency," Gerritsen argued. It "threatens the survival of organic farmers and the organic community we have all worked so hard for decades to build."

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which certifies most organic farms in Maine, also opposed the legislation and is not a member of the Organic Trade Association.

"We felt it was a retreat from the idea that consumers have a right to know what is in their food," Ted Quaday, MOFGA's executive director, said. "Some people called it a compromise; we called it a sell-out of consumer interests."

All four members of Maine's congressional delegation voted against the federal legislation. …

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