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Divided N.H. House panel recommends rejecting GMO labeling bill

A House committee yesterday dealt a blow to the effort to require special labels on food sold in New Hampshire if it’s the product of genetic engineering.

On a 12-8 vote, the House Environment and Agriculture Committee recommended the full House kill a bill that would require food products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, to be labeled as such.

Critics said the bill could be expensive to enforce, might be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional and addresses an issue that’s more properly handled by the federal government.

Some committee members also said claims by GMO skeptics that such products carry significant health risks may be overblown.

“I think that for New Hampshire to mandate labeling at this point in time is a rush to judgement. . . . Scientists will tell you that there has been no hard, fast evidence that genetically engineered products are causing the diseases and allergies and cancers that we’re afraid of,” said Rep. Jane Johnson, a Swanzey Republican. “I’m not in support of this bill. I think that we need to trust the consumer to be educated and make their own choices.”

Labeling bills or outright bans on foods that contain GMOs were introduced this year in nearly half the states, according to the Center for Food Safety, an anti-GMO advocacy group.

Both Maine and Connecticut passed laws this year requiring GMO labeling, though neither will go into effect until additional states do the same. Voters in Washington state this week rejected a referendum proposal that would have mandated GMO labeling, as California voters did last year.

In New Hampshire, a bill that would have studied GMO labeling was killed by the House last year. But this year, Rep. Maureen Mann, a Deerfield Democrat, introduced a new bill that would require labels on food products “if such food is, or may have been, entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering.”

The committee voted back in February to retain the bill for more work, and lawmakers have been studying the issue since the spring. The legislation has drawn considerable interest from local and national advocacy groups, with many arguing in favor of the labeling requirement.

An amendment was offered yesterday that supporters said would improve the bill. Among other things, it would have created an exemption for restaurants and required that at least four other states in the northeastern United States adopt similar laws before the New Hampshire law would take effect.

Rep. Lisa Whittemore, a Londonderry Democrat, said lawmakers should represent “the will of the people,” and that she was “personally very moved and impressed by the literally hundreds of people who contacted me.”

The overwhelming majority, she said, supported putting labels on products that are genetically engineered.

“When a consumer picks up a tomato that’s been sprayed with pesticide, they can go home and they can wash that off,” Whittemore said. “When they pick up a tomato that has been genetically altered so that the genes, the actual structure of that organism has been mutated by, for example, goat genes . . . there is no way that a parent with a child who has allergies, or an individual who’s having health problems, is able to fix that. There’s no way that they can take personal responsibility and alter the nature of that food.”

But critics such as Rep. Robert Haefner, a Hudson Republican, said the bill could carry a “skull-and-crossbones effect,” with “Genetically Engineered” labels serving as de facto warning labels that stigmatize food containing GMOs. He said he thinks the bill would be challenged in court, successfully, on several grounds including violating the Constitution’s protection of freedom of speech.

Plus, Haefner said, “I think it is a federal issue. It is not a state issue.”

After two hours of debate, the committee voted, 12-8, to reject the amendment, then voted by the same margin to recommend the full House kill the bill.

Three Democrats and nine Republicans voted against the bill, while eight Democrats supported it.

The legislation will go to the full House in January for a floor vote, along with other bills that were retained by various committees this year for additional work.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments13

Most companies will not do the right thing unless forced to by laws. If they did there would be no need for laws. If it wasn't for laws we would all be still breathing second hand smoke everywhere we go. I can still remember my workplace in the 80's, you could hardly see through the smoke and just imagine what it was like in a closed cylinder of a plane with the smoking section. I think all consumers have a right to know what is in their food and for once I don't see how this can be a right/left divide.

did a law make producers and restaurants provide gluten free foods and menus - NOPE ....consumerism did . Only liberals think laws are the solution to every one of their perceived problems

As a consumer and a voting constituent I find it rather appalling that it would be suggested that NH voters aren't intelligent, "I know what my constituents think they want, but I know better than they do … I know what they should want." We voted you in and can vote you out. Companies are continually changing their labels, and there is no expense to label GMO. I have lived and traveled to other countries and have seen US imported food all carrying GMO labeling. That argument should be mute. I believe in food transparency and will do my part. Bring the vote to the people and let us decide what we would have.

It's our right to know what's in the food we're consuming, plain and simple.

Having attended all ten of the Subcommittee meetings, I had the opportunity to listen to the experts that testified both in favor of, and against, the bill and the amendment. All of the committee's objections were addressed, including constitutionality issues, and the concern of a lawsuit. We heard support from our Congresswomen in DC encouraging a state bill rather than wait years for a federal bill. The Subcommittee was also told about a recent statement, ""No scientific consensus on GMO safety" which was issued by over 230 internationally recognized scientists. And they were given the information from the NY Times that 93% of Americans support genetically engineered foods to be labeled. The amendment came out of the Subcommittee with the recommendation "ought to pass as amended." The Environment and Agriculture committee tends to be more supportive of what they perceive to be the wishes of the Agriculture community, although many small farmers DO indeed support this bill. I was appalled at some of the disrespect that I heard from some of those who voted against the bill, including statements such as "I know what my constituents think they want, but I know better than they do … I know what they should want." New Hampshire Right to Know GMO and NOFA-NH will be working to encourage New Hampshire's more reasonable legislators to represent the voice of NH, and vote to pass this bill. Details about the bill, the amendment, and expert testimony can be found at http://NHRightToKnowGMO.org/HB660.html

The full Committee was given a recent poll of New Hampshire citizen, which was conducted by The Mellman Group on behalf of Food Democracy Now. According to pollster Mark Mellman, “The survey found nearly all Democrats (93% favor, 2% oppose), Independents (90% favor, 5% oppose) and Republicans (89% favor, 5% oppose) in favor of labeling in the state of New Hampshire. The study also revealed that support for labeling is robust and arguments against it have little sway. These statewide polling results are absolutely consistent with national polling data showing that an overwhelming majority of citizens want the right to know what is in our foods. "When is the last time that 90% of NH citizens agreed on anything?”, said Gary Hirshberg, Founder of Stonyfield Farm and Chairman and Founding Partner of Just Label It. “The only question now is whether our citizen legislators will support individual citizens rights over those of a handful of chemical corporations who are trying to protect their profits.” ____***____ http://justlabelit.org/new-poll-widespread-support-for-gmo-labeling-in-new-hampshire ____***____ Over 27% of the Democrats and 100% of the Republicans on this committee voted against this bill … and against the desires of their constituents. NH citizens will simply not accept this kind of vote when it comes before the full House in early 2014. NH citizens deserve and demand the right to know what they are eating and feeling their families.

A 2 year French study proved GMO foods cause cancer. (Search Longest-Running GMO Safety Study Finds Tumors in Rats) The Chemical companies Monsanto, Bayer, Pioneer, and Dow stipulate in their seed patents that their GMO crops only be studied for 90 days. More than that violates their patent. The 2 year French study did not begin to see signs of cancer till after 90 days. GMO foods should be avoided by anyone wit a brain and common sense.

Mrs. Bean here. I'm sorry to see this bill got sidetracked onto whether GMO is good or bad. This should be an issue of right to know, period. As a consumer I deserve to have my food labeled properly so I can decide what I want to buy. It's the same issue that came up with bovine somatotrophin used to produce milk. I know enough about the action of the pituitary to know the hormone does not end up in the milk. I had other reasons for not wanting to buy milk produced that way. Denying me the right to know how the milk was produced is a right to know issue. I really don't like people putting words in my mind, claiming to know why I do or do not want to purchase a product. Just give me the information and I'll decide.

Consumers should demand it of the producers or don't by the product. To go all Nanny State an make it a law is always the liberals way

sail, do you want me to quit my job and go on welfare so I'll have time to write to each and every company to get the to do what they should be doing in the first place??? Think about it, sail. Do YOU know which products have GMO in them? Do you know how to research that? Do you have time, writing skills and energy to figure out which company owns what label so you can contact them to let them know of your decision? By the way, do you drive or walk? If so, you're benefiting from the Evil Nanny State. Not all nannies are bad, you know. There are some things government does best and label requirements is one of them. You may have time to DIY every little thing you buy but the rest of us have to work, take care of loved ones, and just plain survive on this planet.

I would expect that kind of fruitless effort from a liberal. Conservatives always have a more productive & effective solutions. Did a Law make PJ Chang's Restaurant offer a gluten free menu?

Hey Sail, is there a single law that you like?

I would think that Sail would wholeheartedly approve of "Right" to know laws. After all it has the word right in it.

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