Maine got it right two years ago when the Legislature passed a law requiring labels for food products that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as soon as New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut do the same.

The law puts Maine on the record as holding in high regard the right of consumers to know what is in their food, and to be able to support food producers whose methods they agree with.

But the supporters of the law also understood that foods containing GMOs pose no health risks, and that there are real costs associated with forcing mandatory labels in one small state, and viable alternatives available to consumers until the other states in the region pass their own laws.

Nothing’s changed since then, except for further reassurance about the safety of foods containing GMOs, and so it remains unnecessary to remove the part of the law requiring action from the four contiguous states, as proposed in L.D. 991.

However, we do support the other component of the bill — removing a sunset clause that repeals the original law if the other states don’t pass legislation by 2018, which would allow Maine to continue to stand as a supporter of reasonable transperancy on food labels.

That reason is important, because there is a lot about the GMO debate that is unreasonable, particularly when it comes to the safety of GMOs, which have been criticized as “frankenfood.”

The criticism has worked — about 57 percent of Americans believe it is “generally unsafe” to eat GMOs.

But people have been eating GMOs for more than 20 years now, and the science is pretty clear. In addition to numerous credible studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the National Academy of Sciences, among many other health organizations, say the tens of thousands of products on supermarket shelves that contain GMOs are perfectly safe.

Unfortunately, the spread of false claims against GMOs may make labels confusing to consumers, who could decide to opt for more expensive options based solely on the hint that they are unsafe.

That can be overcome by time and public education. But consumers could still be hurt if Maine decides to mandate labels on its own — food cost and/or variety are likely to be affected (though not by the magnitude suggested by label opponents).

There’s no reason to risk burdening food retailers and driving up costs — or to invite an inevitable court challenge on constitutional grounds, as is happening in Vermont — by instituting mandatory, Maine-only labeling, not in a state where so many people are struggling to pay for food, not when there is no health risk at hand, and not when there are thousands of products already carrying a label through the Non-GMO Project.

There are legitimate concerns with GMO crops. They are in large part the product of large-scale, corporate-controlled agriculture. They promote some worrisome practices, such as the heavy use of herbicide, and they have contributed to the loss of seed variety.

All that goes against the kind of small-scale, organic farming that is growing in Maine, and should be wholeheartedly supported.

For the sake of consumers and grocers, though, we should support them by dropping the labeling law’s sunset provision, and showing other states that we are willing to act as soon as they are, too.


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