GMO Labeling

2014 HB 660 requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods and agricultural commodities, failed to pass in the House.

Definition:

HB 660 uses the term “genetically engineered” (GE) instead of “genetically modified organism” (GMO). It defines GE as a process whereby food intended for human consumption is produced from an organism in which the genetics are “materially altered,” either through in-vitro techniques or by methods of fusing cells “that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombinant barriers.”

Clarification:

    • Traditional methods such as isolating a characteristic of a tomato and crossing that with another tomato to get a preferred characteristic are not GE. Grafting a peach to a pear tree is not GE.
    • On the other hand, inserting an eel gene into a salmon, or altering the genetic makeup of corn or soy with a herbicide to make it ‘Roundup Ready’ is GE.
    • Almost all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of a herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. With conventional herbicides and pesticides, a consumer can wash the fruit or vegetable and remove most residues. That cannot happen with GE; 

Premise:

    • People have a right to know what’s in their food.
    • Some people  have health, religious or environmental reasons to avoid genetically modified foods.
    • 85 percent of the food in grocery stores today contains genetically modified ingredients.

Requirements:

    • Any food offered for retail sale that’s produced by the defined methods would have to have a “conspicuous” label reading “Produced with genetic engineering” or “Partially produced with genetic engineering.”
    • For raw agricultural commodities, there would have to be a label either on the package or the shelf where they’re displayed for sale.

Fines and Exemptions

    • Fines for noncompliance,
    • Exemptions for restaurants, alcoholic beverages, “medical” food (prescribed by a physician for treatment of a medical condition) and products donated to charitable food banks.

Other States

    • About 20 other states, including Vermont, are considering related laws.
    • States in the Northeast are trying to adopt similar labeling language to make it easier for food producers to comply with new mandates.
    • Connecticut, the first state to pass a GMO labeling law, postponed enactment until four other states, including a neighboring one, pass similar laws.
    • NH’s law will only take effectif state officials certify that at least four other northeastern states have adopted mandatory GE labeling by Jan. 1, 2018.

Concerns

    • The New Hampshire Grocers Association opposes the bill but supports the food bank exemption.
    • Some believe that food producers would have to have two inventories, one with and one without labeling, however products already come with labels that meet different state requirements (such as California’s health warnings and Maine’s bottle deposits).
    • This might be better addressed on a federal level, however state labeling might be a more achievable step.
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