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Maine Gov Says He Intends to Sign GMO Labeling Bill - But not Right Now
07/10/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

Just a day after vetoing a bill calling for stricter reporting requirements for certain products containing the chemical bisphenol-A - or BPA - Gov. Paul LePage has surprised some with his intention to sign a GMO labeling bill. As the debate continues to rage, both nationally and at the local level, over the presence of genetically modified organisms - or GMOs - in food products, Maine is now just one short step behind Connecticut, which became the first state in the union to pass a GMO labeling law last month.

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Citing "strong public support" yesterday in a letter to the bill's sponsors, LePage officially indicated that he intends - eventually - to sign LD 718. "But he is proceeding with caution because the legal effort required to defend this law will be complex and very costly," says his press secretary, Adrienne Bennett.

And that's why the governor wants to delay action on the GMO bill until the legislature convenes in January, Bennett says.
In the letter to Republican Rep. Lance Harvell, of Farmington, and Democratic Sen. Chris Johnson, of Somerville, LePage says he agrees that "consumers should have the right to know what is in their food."

But he also alludes to concerns over the constitutionality of labeling requirements, and according to Bennet, the Governor expects that other states that pass labeling laws now will be on the front lines for legal attack.

The bill's co-sponsor, Chris Johnson, agrees. "There are people, and I pretty much agree with them, who characterize Monsanto as a big legal firm that dabbles in chemicals."

The Missouri-based biotech giant, which describes itself as a sustainable agriculture company, has earned a reputation for litigiousness. It has filed numerous lawsuits over the last 20 years against small farms for a variety of complaints, including a recent one over soybean patents that was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in Monsanto's favor.

But Monsanto has also gone after companies such as Oakhurst for the way the Maine dairy characterized "growth hormones" on its milk cartons.

Calls to Monsanto were not returned by airtime, but the company has said it would challenge states that pass labeling laws, which it says could mistakenly mislead customers into thinking that GMOs are dangerous. This is part of the reason Maine's bill has been constructed with trigger clauses; even if Gov. LePage signs the bill, the law wouldn't go into effect until five states contiguous with Maine also pass a GMO labeling law.

Addressing GMO regulation by states standing shoulder-to-shoulder seems to be the best option at this point, says Johnson, since recent bills and amendments - on both sides of the argument - haved failed to progress in Congress.

"The best way to solve this issue is to solve it at the federal level," Johnson says. "But I've less optimism there, until enough states stand up and say, 'Hey this is the right thing to do. It's the right of the people to know what their food contains.'"

Maine's law doesn't specify exactly which states must also pass a GMO law, but in Maine's case, New Hampshire, as the only state that actually touches Maine, would be required to sign on in order for Maine's law to take effect.

While it's still unclear whether the Granite State will do that or not, both of the bill's sponsors say they feel "optimistic" that Maine's New England neighbors will eventually pass similar bills.

With the governor's delay, the GMO bill would likely become effective in about one year. Then it's up to the rest of New England whether the rule has teeth or not.


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