A legislative committee split Thursday on whether to change a Maine law that would require labels on food containing genetically modified organisms but only after other Northeastern states follow suit.

In 2014, lawmakers passed a bill that would require food manufacturers to label products made with genetically engineered ingredients – also called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs – once five contiguous states passed similar laws. Three other New England states have acted. But New Hampshire would have to adopt a similar policy by the end of next year in order for Maine’s GMO labeling law to take effect.

On Thursday, members of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee voted 7-3 to extend that “sunset clause” until the year 2022 in order to give New Hampshire or other Northeastern states additional time to pass their own bills.

The minority block of lawmakers on the committee wanted to, instead, ask voters in a statewide ballot whether Maine should implement the GMO labeling requirement without waiting for other states to act. Advocates for GMO labeling had originally hoped to remove the five-state trigger clause in the Legislature, however the proposal faced opposition from some lawmakers and from the LePage administration.

Food manufacturers, agribusiness and biotechnology companies have opposed GMO labeling, warning it could prompt some manufacturers to stop selling products in Maine while increasing the costs of Maine-based businesses. Instead, they argue any GMO labeling should either be voluntary – which is already happening in some sectors of the food market – or originate from the federal government.

Three committee members were not present during Thursday’s meeting but have 48 hours to cast their votes. The two competing reports will now go to the full Legislature for consideration.


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