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Boston, MA -- Today, residents from across the Commonwealth filled the Gardner Auditorium of the State House to testify in support of legislation that would ensure that all foods sold in Massachusetts that contain genetically engineered ingredients be clearly labeled. The Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture held a public hearing for H. 3242 - An Act establishing the genetic engineering transparency food and seed labeling act.
Foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients are commonly known as GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have all passed GMO labeling laws. Massachusetts is one of many states considering similar legislation.
“It is abundantly clear from the turnout at today’s hearing that Massachusetts wants GMO labeling,” said Martin Dagoberto, of MA Right to Know GMOs. “The goal of GMO labeling is transparency- provide consumers with the information to make a choice about the products they buy. We hope the committee reports the bill out favorably and we look forward to making our case to the entire House of Representatives.”
Dozens of citizens and legislators testified in support to the committee members. A number of consumer, farming, environmental, and public health organizations also offered their testimony to the joint committee, along with several businesses, in support of GMO labeling in Massachusetts.
“At the end of the day, residents here in Massachusetts deserve transparency around something as fundamental as the food they eat and feed their families,” said Deirdre Cummings of MASSPIRG. “Whether we want to seek out or avoid GMOs, this bill will allow consumers to make more educated and informed choices about the food they purchase.”
“States have long been the laboratories of democracy and today’s hearing was a perfect illustration of why Massachusetts should join Vermont, Maine and Connecticut in requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at Center for Food Safety. “The residents of Massachusetts overwhelming support the labeling of GE foods and it is high time that the legislature heed their call.”
“Many GMO crops have been engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, a probable carcinogen,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Staff Scientist for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “That’s just one of many reasons why consumers have the right to know if their food contains products of genetic engineering.
“As a successful Massachusetts organic business for over twenty years, we know that there are no serious business reasons for keeping consumers in the dark about GMO ingredients,” said Dean Cycon, Founder and CEO of Dean's Beans Organic Coffee Co. “It costs next to nothing to change a label – we do it all the time. Also, undisclosed GMO ingredients can undermine if not destroy the integrity of both kosher and organic systems in our commonwealth. We believe our consumers have a right to know what goes into their food and can be trusted to make informed decisions on their own behalf.”
The bipartisan legislative effort has been led by Representatives Ellen Story (D- Amherst) and Todd Smola (R-Palmer), and on the Senate side by Senators Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). The bill has an extraordinary number of cosponsors in the building, with 154 of 200 legislators in Massachusetts signing on to H. 3242. This level of legislative support is bolstered by a variety of polls conducted by professional news organizations including the Washington Post, MSNBC and Reuters/NPR which consistently show that over 90% of consumers want GMO labeling.
The public hearing in Massachusetts takes place while the federal government is considering legislative preemption over the labeling of genetically engineered foods. HR1599, known as the Denying Americans the Right-to-Know (DARK) Act, passed the House 275-150 in July. Eight of nine Massachusetts House members voted no. Representative Bill Keating (D-MA) did not vote on the bill.
The DARK Act pre-empts state and local control without putting a real system in place. Instead, the DARK Act would codify the voluntary labeling for GMOs, which will fail to help consumers. The bill also creates a federal government bureaucracy for non-GMO labeling, even though there is already a private system that’s working well, and prevents state and local governments from implementing any sort of oversight of GMO crops, even when the federal government has declined to regulate them.
Some of the other individuals who testified as part of panels include Jack Kittredge of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Prof. Sheldon Krimsky of the Council for Responsible Genetics, Chris Miller of Ben & Jerry’s, and Nisha Swinton of Food and Water Watch and Rev. Dr. Stephanie May, Minister at First Parish in Wayland.
Last session, GMO labeling legislation was reported out favorably from the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
In recent weeks, the MA Coalition for GMO Labeling has been highlighting their Testimonies for Transparency and collecting quotes and photos from legislators all across Massachusetts; to view the Testimonies for Transparency, go to http://marighttoknow.com/home/testimonyslideshow . A full list of co-sponsors can be found at http://marighttoknow.org/endorsements. For more information on the coalition visit: http://www.marighttoknow.org or Facebook.
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