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Local lawmakers favor laws on GMO labeling


Berkshire Eagle 03/17/2014, Page A01

5 bills under consideration in both chambers

By Nathan Mayberg

Berkshire Eagle Staff

BOSTON — All five local state lawmakers are backing their constituents’ right to know what they are eating.

Berkshire County’s four representatives and Sen. Benjamin B. Downing support pending legislation that would require genetically modified organism ( GMO) food to be labeled as such in Massachusetts.

One of the five bills — or any combination of them — currently before joint committees of the House and Senate must be reported out with a recommendation to the full Legislature by Wednesday.

Under two of the bills, food sold across the commonwealth containing genetically modified ingredients can’t be advertised as natural.

“ The point is to get our food labeled so people know what they are eating,” said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D- Pittsfield. “ People are trying to do a good job of being health conscious and feeding their children good food.”

Farley-Bouvier also questions the nutritional value of GMOs and the inability of using seeds from genetically modified food to produce a new crop.

GMOs have been accepted as ingredients that don’t have to be labeled due to a 1992 FDA policy statement, according to Martin Dagoberto, campaign coordinator for MA Right to Know GMOs. He said that “recent science shows there are substantial differences in protein structures” and “ material differences” of GMOs. Dagoberto pointed out that approximately 90 percent of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified and more than 80 percent of soy and cottonseed is genetically engineered.

“I think the industry is concerned that people will take a second look at it and it will hurt their bottom line.” Farley-Bouvier said.

The Grocery Manufacture’s Association, which reportedly opposes the proposed new law, didn’t return a phone call from The Eagle seeking comment.

Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, DNorth Adams says more than 300 people have contacted her in support of GMOs being listed on food labels. Cariddi, who sits on the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, supports labeling genetically modified food and seeds.

“ We don’t know exactly what are the long-term effects of GMOs being put into our food. It’s a right- to- know issue for me,” she said. Cariddi believes GMOs should listed along with saturated fat, vitamins and other ingredients currently printed on food labels.

“ It’s a consumer choice bill,” added state Rep. William “ Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox. “People want to see what’s in the food they’re buying off the shelf.”

Pignatelli is sponsoring a bill that would require GMOs to be labeled and which would disqualify items as natural if they use GMOs. That bill would exempt products which are from animals that are fed GMO food.

In addition, Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, supports labeling GMO products in large print to make consumers more aware of their presence in the food they are buying.

“I think it just makes sense that people should have the right to know what they are eating,” he said.

Similar legislation has passed in Connecticut and Vermont, according to state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who says proper labeling is necessary because GMOs “play a huge role in our food production system.”

Downing, who serves with Cariddi on the same joint committee, noted the panel was given presentations of studies that differed on whether GMOs pose a health risk to consumers.

To reach Nathan Mayberg:nmayberg@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6243