The Push For GMO Labeling on Foods Is Growing on Beacon Hill

Advocates now have the support of House and Senate leaders.

Image via Associated Press

Image via Associated Press

A significant push for a bill that would require food manufacturers to label goods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has started to sprout on Beacon Hill.

During a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, members of the organization MA Right to Know, which advocates for forcing food makers to let customers know what exactly an edible product is made of, said a piece of legislation introduced to lawmakers last year now has the backing of both House and Senate members.  In total, 140 legislators have signed on in support.

“We are extremely lucky to have so many incredible legislators supporting this effort here in Massachusetts,” said Martin Dagoberto, campaign coordinator for MA Right to Know GMOs coalition. “The level of support from both the House and Senate, as well as from residents from across the state speaks to the momentum behind passing a GMO labeling bill this session.”

In March, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture voted out the bill, called “an act relative to seed labeling,” favorably. Two months later, the Committee on Health Care Financing also approved of the legislation, and passed it on to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

According to the language in the bill, if passed into law, any food sold in stores that was made using GMOs, or influenced during the growing process by methods not possible under natural conditions, would have to bear clear labels on their packaging letting consumers know what ingredients they contain. The bill does not impact food served at restaurants, or at farmer’s stands. “This is a reasonable request about a basic right we should have: knowing what is in the food we eat,” said Representative Ellen Story, D-Amherst, who is in favor of the bill passing. “The broad support we see across both parties, from our most conservative members, to moderates, to progressives, shows that this bill will not be controversial. This is something we all want to accomplish.”

Researchers and activists claim consuming foods containing GMOs can lead to serious health risks, and can be linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects. States like New Hampshire and Vermont have also tried to combat the use of GMOs in foods, and raise awareness about their use by requesting companies place easily identifiable labels on foods that may have been modified. Vermont welcomed the changes, but New Hampshire’s efforts fell flat.

While the proposal garnered bipartisan support on Beacon Hill, members of the group Massachusetts Farm to Food have stood firmly against mandatory labeling. “Forced labeling will result in higher food costs for Massachusetts consumers of as much as $500 per year. That’s part of the reason the New Hampshire legislature rejected it this year and our legislature should as well,” said Bill Rennie, vice president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, adding that states like California struck down similar referendums.

Backers of the bill are hoping to get it approved before the legislative session ends in July, but the clock is ticking. Supporters are calling on constituents to reach out to their respective elected leaders to ask them to sign their names in support of the proposal. “Please call or write today to politely remind your legislators: we need GMO labeling to be a priority! With your help—and their help—we can pass this bill,” organizers from MA Right to Know said in a statement.