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Amendment to Maine GMO Labeling Bill Fails to Win Support
05/21/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Proponents of a bill to require labeling for genetically modified foods are expressing relief that a last-minute maneuver by representatives of the infant formula industry to exempt their products failed to win support. The bill has yet to be considered by the full Legislature and members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee are divided about its merits. But as Patty Wight reports, Maine is not the first state where infant formula manufacturers have tried this strategy.

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They tried the same strategy in California and Vermont - and now Maine. Here's Logan Perkins of MOFGA - the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association - one of the groups pushing for GMO food labels. She says an attempt was made to rewrite the bill late last year.

"After all the public comment and public hearing and everything had ended, this mysterious infant formula exemption amendment appeared," Perkins said.

Members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee wanted to find out who was behind the last-minute amendment. During a work session on the bill on Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Craig Hickman grilled attorney Dan Riley, who testified in favor of the amendment on behalf of infant formula company Abbott Laboratories.

Rep. Craig Hickman: "Did you testify at the public hearing?"

Dan Riley: "I did not."

Rep. Craig Hickman: "Why?"

Dan Riley: "Because I was not authorized by my client."

Rep. Craig Hickman: "And so that means that what you're telling us today was not a part of anything that someone else could, shall we say, provide different evidence for?"

Genetically modified foods are those that have genes from another species inserted in them to bring out a desirable trait, like resistance to certain diseases. Groups like MOFGA are concerned that the consequences from eating these foods - which do not occur in nature - is unknown.

Infant formula contains about three percent soybean oil, which is usually genetically-modified. But Dan Riley says infant formula goes through a mechanical and chemical scrubbing process that ultimately removes the soybean's genetically-modified DNA.

Labeling it as GMO, he says, is "essentially false advertising to the consumer. Because there wouldn't be any GMO left - there isn't any GMO left after the refining process."

That assertion brought doubt from Democratic Rep. Robert Saucier, who asked for scientific proof that the GMO is indeed removed in the refining process.

"We're all going through a human study here with GMOs, and we're going to accept a company who makes baby formula, that says that there's no DNA - no GMOs, in their baby formula, and we're supposed to accept that?"

"That's been accepted in eight other countries around the world," Riley responded.

The FDA and the World Health Organization have concluded that the nutritional value of genetically modified foods is the same as non-genetically modified foods. Still, the Agriculture Committee ultimately voted against the amendment.

Now the bill moves to the full Legislature. It comes for consideration as Vermont and Connecticut consider similar bills. Earlier this month, a national coalition called on the three largest infant formula makers to remove GMO ingredients, a month after Abbott Laboratories' board voted against removing GMO at its annual shareholder meeting.



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