GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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U.S. States Debate GMO Labeling Laws



      [toolbar]     Natural Foods Merchandiser: April 1997

                    Biotech Bills Blossom On State Agendas

                    MONTPELIER, Vt.--Four states have biotechnology-related
                    bills on their agendas for the current session,
                    signaling an interest in the issue by some legislators.

                    In Vermont, new legislation follows the repeal of a
                    mandatory recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)
                    labeling law, which, among other things, required
                    retailers to place a "blue dot" on dairy products made
                    from milk produced by cows given rBGH. That portion of
                    the former law was declared unconstitutional last
                    August, when a panel of judges said it violated milk
                    producers' freedom of speech (see October NFM, page 6).

                    However, Vermont Sens. Cheryl Rivers and Elizabeth
                    Ready recently introduced legislation (S.73), which
                    continues the existing law that allows manufacturers to
                    label products rBGH-free, but drops the mandatory
                    labeling section. In addition, the new legislation
                    requires farmers who use rBGH to notify milk handlers.
                    "This improves verification of the rBGH-free claim,"
                    says Steven Heim, program director for Rural Vermont, a
                    family-farming advocacy group based in Montpelier.
                    "This bill is good because it continues to protect the
                    consumer's right to know. But what is really needed is
                    for all genetically engineered foods to be labeled."
                    The first hearing on the bill, in the Vermont Senate
                    Agriculture Committee, was scheduled for late February.

                    Similar legislation in Massachusetts was introduced by
                    Lois Pines and is already in discussion in the
                    Massachusetts Joint Natural Resources Committee. The
                    bill, S.D. 1947, inserts a new section to the
                    Inspection and Sale of Food law already on the books in
                    that state, to require a label on dairy products
                    notifying consumers that the milk was obtained from
                    cows treated with any growth hormone. The label would
                    read as follows: "This milk was produced by cows
                    injected with synthetic BGH." This legislation also
                    requires distributors of dairy products that may
                    contain rBGH to keep records of all dairy transactions.

                    More sweeping biotechnology labeling is on the books
                    for Nebraska and Maine. In those states, lawmakers are
                    considering legislation that would require labeling of
                    genetically engineered foods or food organisms. In
                    Maine, Rep. Paul Chartrand introduced the bill, which
                    asks manufacturers to include the words "genetically
                    engineered," the source of the genetic material and the
                    purpose of the genetic engineering on the label.
                    According to the National Food Processors Association's
                    State Legislative Update, the Maine bill would also ask
                    retailers to post this information on a conspicuous
                    sign and display genetically engineered foods
                    separately.

                    Nebraska's bill, introduced by Sen. Jennie Robak, also
                    requires labeling of all genetically engineered foods.
                    At press time, it was in discussion in the Nebraska
                    Agriculture Committee. "All the surveys have indicated
                    that this is a good move for politicians," says Ronnie
                    Cummins, executive director of the Minnesota-based
                    Pure Food Campaign. "We've seen studies that say 90
                    percent of all consumers want mandatory biotechnology
                    labeling."

                    In the meantime, The New York Times reported recently
                    that Novartis, a giant Swiss agribusiness company is
                    preparing to advocate that all genetically engineered
                    crops and foods made from them be clearly labeled.

                    --Emily Esterson

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