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House subcommittee begins work on GMO labeling bill

Bonnie Wright, of Salem, left, hands out literature with Dave Stewart, right, of Rochester, following a house subcommittee work session for HB-660-FN, the bill requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods,  on August 13, 2013 at the Legislative Office Building. Wright and Stewart attended the session along with several other members of their grassroots organization, New Hampshire Right to Know GMOs, who all wore hand made t-shirts supporting their cause. 

(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Bonnie Wright, of Salem, left, hands out literature with Dave Stewart, right, of Rochester, following a house subcommittee work session for HB-660-FN, the bill requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods, on August 13, 2013 at the Legislative Office Building. Wright and Stewart attended the session along with several other members of their grassroots organization, New Hampshire Right to Know GMOs, who all wore hand made t-shirts supporting their cause. (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

Two months after his state passed legislation requiring labels on genetically engineered foods, Maine Rep. Lance Harvell, the bill’s chief sponsor, pitched his case yesterday for why New Hampshire lawmakers should follow suit.

“If you want to make the American people potentially a lab experiment, at least let them know what’s going on,” Harvell told members of a New Hampshire House subcommittee, as they began work on a similar bill introduced and retained earlier this year.

New Hampshire’s bill, which would take effect July 1 of next year, would require labels on all foods produced entirely or partially through genetic engineering, whereby an organism’s gene composition is altered to give it certain characteristics, such as an ability to ward off pests or disease. Though not in the bill’s language, subcommittee members indicated yesterday they would add an exemption for meat, dairy and eggs, which would be difficult to trace for genetically modified inputs, such as altered feed.

The subcommittee is also considering adding a “trigger” that would prevent the law from taking effect until a number of New England states adopt similar legislation – a move intended to deter large-scale producers from pulling their goods from any one state’s grocery shelves. The bill in Maine, as well as one Connecticut legislators recently passed and signed into law and one now pending in Vermont, each have triggers. Harvell, a Republican, acknowledged yesterday that this made for at least part of his interest in the fate of New Hampshire’s bill.

Subcommittee members voiced an array of anxieties yesterday about the bill’s potential effects on farmers and consumers, and on whether it would likely lead to litigation from large-scale producers and biotech companies.

Harvell’s response to the last concern: Probably, but you wouldn’t be alone.

“If Monsanto hasn’t sued you yet, stand in line,” he said, referencing the biotech giant and leading producer of genetically modified seed.

Who would win any hypothetical legal battle is anyone’s guess, Harvell added, noting that corporate interests wouldn’t have invested so many resources trying to defeat his bill – and those that have been or are being considered in dozens of other states – had they been certain of the strength of their case.

“If you’re so sure about this being unconstitutional, why don’t you just lay off, let the state pass it, hammer them in court as the example for everyone else to see, and then walk away?” he asked subcommittee members. “They don’t really want to go (to court) any more than we do. If they lose, right – if the other side loses once – it’s all 50 states can say, ‘Fair game.’ ”

But with no scientific proof or federal indication to date that genetically engineered plants pose health risks, Rep. Robert Haefner, a Hillsboro Republican, said his concern was that the law would imply that such foods are unsafe to consume, which could lead to additional litigation from producers.

It was a point that Robert Johnson, policy director for the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation, which opposes mandated labeling, reiterated after the meeting. What’s more, Johnson said, such inferences obscure the potential benefits that genetic engineering provide, such as reduced need for pesticides, added protection against soil erosion and improved crop yields. Opponents of genetic engineering often contend that such technology in fact harms soil conditions and weakens crop variety.

The meeting drew a packed room of more than 50 spectators, some sporting buttons and T-shirts in support of the bill, though none of them spoke as the subcommittee did not take any public comment.

Work on the bill is scheduled to continue throughout the fall, and Rep. Peter Bixby, a Democrat from Strafford and subcommittee chairman, said he had lined up at least two speakers for future sessions, including a consumer advocate and Gary Hirshberg, the chairman of Stonyfield Farm and a

staunch and vocal proponent of labeling. The next session is Sept. 3, Bixby said.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

Let's just pretend that GMO's don't cause tumors in rats, or severe stomach inflammation in pigs, or that a gene designed to dissolve a bug's stomach is perfectly safe for human consumption as some GMO proponents claim. What I find even more alarming is the rise of monoculture and the demise of permaculture due to the rise of GMO crops. Monoculture is dead end for civilization as we know it. Big agribusiness (e.g. Monsanto) perpetuates monoculture as their business model, but with the introduction of something as simple as a new fungal disease, an entire species of wheat could die out virtually overnight. Just as alarming is the dramatic increase in Glyphosate herbicide (a.k.a. Roundup) use due to "superweeds" that have naturally adapted a resistance to Glyphosate. Likewise pesticide use is on the rise due to "superbugs" which have also grown resistant. These chemicals are being pumped out at record rates by companies that work hand in hand with Monsanto (e.g. Bayer and Dow) who are now also "coincidentally" making record profits. Not only does this increase in herbicides and pesticides threaten our environment, it winds up in our food and recent studies have even linked Neonicotinoids (one of the most widely used pesticides) to Bee colony collapse. Don't take my word for it though, read on as to why labeling should be our first step, and outlawing GMOs should be our ultimate objective. http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24# http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Why_GMOs_Can_Never_be_Safe.php

64 countries have banned GMO foods. I read a book "Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight" by William Davis, M.D. In it he stated that GMO wheat was the only food that could penetrate the intestinal wall and cause autoimmune reactions--this after 15 years of research. It is believed there may be a link between GMO foods and infertility and also autism. Further the heavy use of Roundup pesticides with their Roundup soy and other products is believed to be creating superbugs which are impervious--so ever more toxic chemicals in our food supply? Further Monsanto's policy of forcing farmers to buy new seed every year is obscene and harmful.

Why are there any exceptions? Any exceptions will be unacceptable! Why eVen bother with it. Just making believe they care enough to have some kind of Labeling law?

I'm an organic farmer on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. 5 of the big biotech chemical companies have developed our island as an epicenter of GMO and pesticide testing, and are growing 13,000 acres of GMO seed corn here. People are getting sick and both a lawsuit and proposed bill containing their operations are underway. These corporation lie constantly. For instance, they claim to use cover crops to enhance soil fertility, but I have never seen any, just 3 seed crops a year. The soil is used simply to hold up plants for chemical fertilization. PLEASE support your labeling bill. We must reign these profit-driven monsters in. They will try to sing their own praises by saying that they are feeding a starving world and any crimp in their style will jeopardize that effort. Do not fall for that line...the poor of the world cannot afford to buy their GMO seed every year, and so are inconsequential in the eyes of the GMO companies. For the good of all, pass your law and boycott as many products as possible with GMO ingredients.

The assertion that there's "no scientific proof or federal indication to date that genetically engineered plants pose health risks" is a myth promoted by pro-GMO proponents. Consider reading this well-documented report that debunks this and several other pro-GMO myths: http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/executive-summary

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