Pass the GMO labeling bill now

Despite wide support, measure may not get a vote

By Deirdre Cummings and Martin Dagoberto
(as originally published Commonweatlh Magazine, April 19. 2016)

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MOST PEOPLE CARE what’s in their food. Whether the reason is dietary, religious, moral, or a concern about flavor, we like to know – and many need to know – what we’re eating. That’s why nearly everything we consume is labeled, and why those labels are so important to us. In January, Whole Foods had to recall 75,000 pounds of frozen pepperoni pizzas, not because the food was bad or dangerous, but because it was incorrectly labeled. Those labels matter. And yet, still, in 2016, there is no law requiring labeling of a genetically modified organism, or GMO, ingredient in Massachusetts. We can and should change that this year.

 

The country’s first mandatory GMO labeling bill is set to take effect in Vermont in July. As a result, Campbell Soup Company, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, and ConAgra have all announced over the last few weeks that they will begin to label their products to comply. Despite overwhelming support for labeling across the country (93 percent in an ABC News poll conducted last June), it’s clear that these companies would not be taking this step if not for the Vermont law.

 

Northeastern states have led the way on this issue for years (Connecticut and Maine have also passed labeling laws), and remain the only US governments that have taken action. Sixty-four countries, including member nations of the European Union, Russia, China, Brazil, Australia, Turkey, and South Africa already require GMO food labeling. If we want to see GMO ingredients labeled on our food (and 93 percent of us do), Massachusetts and other states must step forward and set the standard.

 

Last year, 154 of Massachusetts’s 200 legislators, including big majorities of both the Senate and the House, of Democrats and Republicans, joined together to cosponsor The Genetic Engineering Transparency Food Labeling Act. Yet, despite the support of more than 75 percent of the Legislature, the bill, H. 4156, is far from guaranteed even a vote by the Legislature. That’s a major problem for anyone who wants labeling of GMO ingredients, because despite calls for a new federal law, Congress is not coming to the rescue anytime soon.

 

In 2015, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the so-called “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” which is more properly titled the “Denying Americans the Right-to-Know,” or DARK, Act. The DARK Act not only prohibits the federal government from mandating GMO labeling, it also prevents states from passing labeling laws, and instead institutes a framework for voluntary labeling.

 

Among the many problems with this proposed law, which has been pushed by the Grocery Manufacturers of America and its allies in the biochemical and agrochemical industries, is that it’s based on the false premise that a majority of major food companies will voluntarily label their products. These same industry groups are currently pulling out the stops to pass the DARK Act in the US Senate, desperately trying to roll back Vermont’s law.

 

We have often heard that states are the laboratories of democracy. Important reforms, demanded by citizens, are often debated, vetted, and passed on the state level where lawmakers are closer to their constituents and less influenced by industry giants and their armies of lobbyists. Only after being faced with the prospect of negotiating different laws in different states and wasting millions of dollars in uphill battles are powerful monied interests willing to come to the table on the national level to adopt simple reforms for the whole country. The reality is the states, particularly Vermont, have pushed the major food companies to label GMOs, and must continue to do so.

 

As the Whole Foods pizza recall proves, we all want to know what’s in our food. And as the debate in Washington proves, it is more important than ever for Massachusetts to side with consumers and pass the GMO labeling bill. By joining with Vermont, we not only provide our fellow citizens with the right to know about GMOs, we also strengthen the likelihood of getting a meaningful national GMO labeling law for the entire country.

As manufacturers comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling bill, neighboring states move to back them up!

Was that so hard? :) Look for labeled M&Ms and other products to begin showing up in stores any day!

Look for labeled M&Ms and other products to begin showing up in stores any day now!

Despite federal inaction, food packages bearing the words “produced with genetic engineering” are beginning to arrive on shelves across the United States! Major manufacturers are choosing to label nationwide in response to the GMO labeling law slated to go into effect in Vermont on July 1, 2016. Vermont has effectively set the standard for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food ingredients.

Several neighboring states are on the verge of joining with Vermont, Connecticut and Maine by reinforcing the standards and expectations for mandatory disclosure of GE food ingredients. Progress at the state level will continue until a federal mandatory GMO labeling standard which meets or exceeds the Vermont standard is adopted.

In Massachusetts, a record-breaking bipartisan coalition of state legislators has cosponsored their GMO labeling bill (155 of 200 total legislators as cosponsors). Nearly 500 local farms, businesses and organizations across the state have joined the coalition in support of the legislation. Tens of thousands of residents have made their voices heard through petitions, hearings, lobby days and call/email campaigns and the broad majority of legislators are listening. The bill was passed unanimously out of its first committee in March 2016 and is awaiting a vote on the House floor before the legislative session ends in July.

Rhode Island’s GMO labeling bill has the support of the nearly its entire House of Representatives and a majority of the Senate. New York, Minnesota and other states are expected to follow shortly. Connecticut is also working to remove the “trigger” that has prevented implementation up to this point. Discussion in Maine surrounds a ballot initiative to strip the trigger from their bill, as well.

Most reforms start closest to those who are in need of it. Important reforms, demanded by citizens, are often debated, vetted, and passed on the state level where lawmakers are closer to their constituents and less influenced by industry giants and their armies of lobbyists. Only after being faced with the prospect of negotiating different laws in different states and wasting millions of dollars in uphill battles are powerful monied interests willing to come to the table on the national level to adopt simple reforms for the whole country. State GMO labeling campaigns have been successful for this reason: a diverse, passionate and vocal constituency has been mobilized by a coordinated network of grassroots activists, overwhelming the influence and reach of industry lobbyists.

Transparency opponents will continue to cry wolf and muddy the waters, saying that “GMO labeling is meaningless and unnecessary” and even that it will somehow “destroy the food system.” At the end of the day, however, consumers have demonstrated that this information is important to them, and the issue is clearly not going away. Whether or not the old adage “the customer is always right” holds water any more, the populist tenor of today’s political climate is undeniable and growing. If anything this state-led movement for food labeling transparency is an historical test of our democracy, and the more perceptive manufacturers have already begun to move where the winds are headed.

 

GMO Labeling Bill Takes Important First Step Toward Passage

UPDATE: On April 5th the Mass. GMO labeling bill (new number: H.4156) was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee after being unanimously passed from the Environment/Agriculture Committee. It’s now one BIG step closer to passage and we are all closer to regaining our right to know what we’re eating.

With Monsanto trying to bully Vermont and stop them from labeling GMOs this summer, NOW is the time to stand with them. The bill which was released has some good and bad in it and we need your help to ensure passage of the strongest possible version.

Learn more about the bill and take action, here.

March 3, 2016

Boston – A bill that would give consumers clear labels for GMO food ingredients today cleared the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture, a critical first step on the road to passage. H. 3242, The Genetic Engineering Transparency Food Labeling Act, would require clear labeling of food products that contain genetically engineered ingredients (commonly called “GMOs”).

The Massachusetts Coalition for GMO Labeling applauded the move by House Chair Paul Schmid (D-Westport) and Senate Chair Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) to advance the bill, which enjoys strong bipartisan support across both chambers of the Massachusetts legislature.

“Passage of the GMO bill from committee is an important step toward giving consumers more information about the food they eat and feed their families,” said Deirdre Cummings, of MASSPIRG. “We are looking forward to working with leadership in both branches and our 154 cosponsors to make sure this is the best bill for consumers and bring it to floor for a vote in both the House and Senate.”

Similar laws have recently passed in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont, which is the first to go into effect in July. Supporters cautioned that there is still work to do on the bill as it moves through the legislative process; including making sure the bill mirrors what other early adopters have done and takes effect shortly after Vermont’s law is implemented this July.

“We’re glad to see the bill moving, but this is just the first step,” said Martin Dagoberto of MA Right to Know GMOs. “With all this support on such a hot issue, the time is right for Massachusetts to join with its neighbors and set a national, uniform standard for GMO labeling.”

Congress is currently considering a voluntary GMO labeling bill, opposed by  consumer groups across the country including every member of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation The bill, known as the Denying Americans the Right-to-Know (DARK) Act, was advanced by the Senate Agricultural Committee earlier this week, and could emerge for a vote in the full Senate soon. Among the many problems with bill it would prohibit the FDA from adopting mandatory GMO food labeling and preempt states from doing the same. Instead the bill establishes only a voluntary labeling program.

The Massachusetts Coalition for GMO Labeling will continue working with the bill’s sponsors and more than 470 local farms, businesses and organizations to pass a strong GMO labeling law before the end of the 2016 legislative session.

A full list of co-sponsors can be found at http://marighttoknow.org/endorsements. For more information on the coalition visit http://www.marighttoknow.org or Facebook.

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Westport farms and businesses call on Rep. Schmid to release GMO labeling bill from Committee

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Boston, MA ­– Two-dozen Westport farms and businesses today called on Rep. Paul Schmid, Sen. Anne Gobi, and Speaker Robert DeLeo to advance H.3242 – An Act establishing the genetic engineering transparency food and seed labeling act – out of committee. H. 3242 would ensure that all foods sold in Massachusetts that contain genetically engineered ingredients be clearly labeled.

Last fall, Rep. Schmid’s committee, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, held a public hearing for H. 3242. During more than four hours of testimony, the Committee heard from dozens of supporters from all walks of life, with the only opposition coming from a panel organized by the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association. Despite the overwhelming support for the bill, the legislation has not yet been released from committee. Today, two-dozen businesses based in Rep. Schmid’s district signed a letter sent to Senate co-chair Schmid, along with Senate co-chair Gobi and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, calling for immediate action on the bill.

“Farmers will continue to grow what people want to eat. GMO labeling simply gives people the power of choice – ultimately,it’s better for consumers and better for our businesses.” – Healthy Futures Farm

“Key players in the Westport farming and business community want Chairman Schmid to know that he has their full support in moving ahead on GMO labeling,” said Martin Dagoberto, co-founder of Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs.

Prominent members of the Westport business community, including Buzzard’s Bay Brewery and Gooseberry Natural Foods, advocated on behalf of a consumer’s basic right to transparency throughout the food industry. Local supporters also include Gray’s Daily Grind, Partner’s Village Store, Village Pizza and Westport Rivers Vineyard. In the letter, they write that mandatory GMO labeling is both an issue of consumer rights and economic justice, citing the limited pool of people who have the means to regularly buy organic produce and research the contents of their food.

“It is the authority of the consumer to make informed choices that is at stake here,” said Bill Braun of Ivory Silo Farm and Seed Project in Westport. “If the industry truly believes that GMOs are the only way to feed the world, one would imagine that they would have no problem telling people.  Since they are already repackaging for dozens of other countries worldwide, it doesn’t seem a tall order to add a line to their labels in the U.S.”

“Farmers will continue to grow what people want to eat,” said Averyl Adrade at Healthy Futures Farm, also in Westport. “GMO labeling simply gives people the power of choice – ultimately, it’s better for consumers and better for our businesses.”

Read the Jan. 28 letter from a Westport farmer: http://dighton.wickedlocal.com/article/20160128/OPINION/160125755

Read the Jan. 28 letter from a Westport farmer: http://dighton.wickedlocal.com/article/20160128/OPINION/160125755

The strong showing of local support voiced in the letter mirrors the support at the State House; bipartisan support for the bill currently stands at 155 out of 200 state legislators, with more than 450 coalition partners supporting GMO labeling across the Commonwealth. As Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have already all passed their own GMO labeling laws, Massachusetts is the next New England state poised to take action on the GMO labeling issue.

“The Massachusetts GMO labeling bill has a record amount of bipartisan support. Americans deserve the same right that people in 64 other countries enjoy,” said Dagoberto. “Right now Massachusetts has the opportunity to join with its neighbors and set a national standard for GMO labeling.”

The letter to the committee and the list of signers, as well as the full list of legislative and business endorsements can be found at marighttoknow.org/openletter. For more information on the coalition visit: marighttoknow.org or Facebook.

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GMO labeling advocates cheer Campbell Soup decision to support mandatory labeling of GMO products and withdraw from coalitions that oppose labeling

Campbell rebukes Grocery Manufacturers Association

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Boston, MA ­– GMO Labeling advocates cheered Campbell Soup’s decision to support mandatory labeling laws and withdraw from coalitions that are opposing them. Campbell Soup is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has fiercely opposed mandatory GMO labeling efforts across the country, and Campbell’s withdrawal will mark the industry’s changing tide.

According to official documents, as analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, the food and biotech industries have spent $143 million in lobbying expenditures that mentioned GMO labeling since 2013. As major food companies begin to change gears to respond to consumer demand for this information, Campbell has decided to label all of their products containing genetically engineered ingredients by 2018 and is calling on the government to require mandatory labeling.

“Food manufacturers are sick of wasting money for the sake of the big GMO pushers like Monsanto. Fighting transparency is a lost cause.” said Martin Dagoberto of MA Right to Know GMOs. “The People have demonstrated that they want to know what they’re eating,” Dagoberto continued, “and while we applaud Campbell’s move to label voluntarily, they are the first to do so in nearly 20 years. We need mandatory labeling so that anyone can pick up any food product and know if it contains genetically engineered ingredients.”

The Massachusetts Coalition for GMO Labeling also reiterated its call for passage of state legislation to require labeling.

“It’s great that Campbell is calling on the federal government to require mandatory labeling,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director of MassPIRG. “However, we know that change like this usually begins with the states, and strong state action is the best way to protect consumers and to set the bar for labeling. Mandatory labeling legislation in Massachusetts has 155 co-sponsors, and its time to pass this bill.”

Last fall, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture held a public hearing for H. 3242An Act establishing the genetic engineering transparency food and seed labeling act.The high turnout was in line with the high level of support within the State House; the legislation has 155 cosponsors and more than 400 coalition partners supporting GMO labeling across the Commonwealth. Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have all passed their own GMO labeling laws. The legislation has not yet been released from committee, and the Massachusetts Coalition for GMO Labeling today again urged the committee chairs to release the bill.

The bipartisan legislative effort in Massachusetts has been led by Representatives Ellen Story (D- Amherst) and Todd Smola (R-Palmer), and on the Senate side by Senators Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “This is about giving people in Massachusetts good information so they can make a decision themselves. Now is the time,” said Smola in a recent social media post.

A full list of co-sponsors can be found at http://marighttoknow.org/endorsements. For more information on the coalition visit: http://www.marighttoknow.org or www.facebook.com/MARightToKnowGMOs/.

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Take action now to keep the MA GMO labeling bill moving!

Statewide GMO labeling summit – Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Thanks to your involvement, our campaign to label GMOs in Massachusetts is about to reach a climax. We have until July to get our state GMO labeling bill (H.3242) passed, so we figured this would be a good time to meet in-person to discuss how we can work together to make GMO labeling a reality.

Please join our campaign organizers, local leaders and coalition partners at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (Mass. Chapter) Winter Conference in Worcester on January 16th for a special GMO labeling summit.

  • Meet face to face to learn the latest updates and ways to get involved with the GMO labeling campaign.

  • Attend the full conference to learn about the incredible work of the NOFA network!

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GMO Labeling Summit at NOFA/Mass Winter Conference

Saturday, January 16th, 1:30 PM – 3:30 pm (Optional lunch conversation at 12:15 pm, with full conference starts at 9 am – highly recommended)

Worcester State University

Full Conference page: nofamass.org/events/wc

Share the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1077145465631015/

 

The all-day conference features 70 workshops and exhibitors; an all-day seminar and keynote speeches with Ben Burkett, family farmer and coordinator of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives; children’s conference and more.  This conference is a high-energy, solutions-oriented annual gathering, a fantastic chance to gain some new gardening/farming skills, connect with other food activists and farmers and to get excited about the coming growing season!

 

We are proud to deepen our ongoing partnership with NOFA/Mass by co-hosting our GMO Labeling summit during the afternoon of the conference.

 

To apply group membership rates, use this discount code GMO and register as a NOFA/Mass member (our activists are considered members for this registration). Registration price includes a fantastic organic buffet lunch. Please don’t let lack of funds stop you from coming, as scholarships are available.  We will start the conversation during lunch, but if people only want to come for the actual meeting at 1:30pm and not the conference, please contact Marty by January 1st to confirm (marty@marighttoknow.org).  We can also work with you to arrange ride-shares; find conference carpool shares here: http://bit.ly/1OUjmBs

See you in January!

Final hour for GMO labeling? Take action now!

Please use the below action page to send a quick message to your Federal AND Massachusetts legislators (if you live here). We are confident that our federal delegation is with us on this, but they still need our encouragement. We really need to get more emails to our state legislators so that our Massachusetts GMO labeling bill gets moving in the new year. Please consider picking up a phone and calling your state representative and senator (number will appear after you enter your address).

Note: this action page works for anyone in the U.S. It will send the message to their own Senators and Representative. Please share far and wide!

Call your U.S. Senators to Stop the DARK Act!

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The Massachusetts GMO labeling bill has the support of over 75% of the legislature and we had a wildly successful public hearing a couple weeks ago. But the federal DARK Act would render our efforts obsolete, because it would prohibit states like ours from requiring mandatory GMO labeling.

Please take action now to take back our food supply and our democracy. Call both of your senators with the below phone number and ask your friends and family across the country to do the same!

Massachusetts Senators Markey and Warren have already come out against the DARK Act. But we need them to be loud and vocal opponents and to talk to their peers who are not yet on the right side of this issue.

No matter where you live in the U.S. please call this number to be connected to your Senators. 

Call 877-762-8762 to be connected to both Senators!

You can say something like:

“As your constituent, I’m counting on your leadership to stop the DARK Act., H.1599, which is heading to the Senate. Please come out in strong opposition and please talk to your Senate colleagues on the floor. Let them know this is NOT the GMO labeling bill we’re asking for!”

 

On October 21st the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on the DARK Act and our voices will not be heard, so be sure they hear you NOW.

We deserve and need to know if GMOs are in the food we are feeding ourselves and our families. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA, which represents Monsanto and others) is fighting harder than ever because they know the truth will not remain hidden, we are winning. Our opponents are afraid to label GMOs; they are afraid of US, because we have truth and transparency on our side.

Call your Senators TODAY and ask them to stand with the people of this country in strong opposition to the DARK Act, HR 1599.

For more info on the DARK Act and to send a personalized email to both Senators, please visit out action page at marighttoknow.org/StopDark

Click here for PDF of a DARK Action flier that you can distribute at local events!

Non-GMO Month: Calendar of Events

nongmomonthOctober is Non-GMO Month, and we have a full calendar of events across the state: marighttoknow.org/calendar

Bite by bite, we’re taking back our food, our government and our lives! The movement for GMO labeling is hitting a critical Mass…, and people across the country are learning how to regain control over what they feed their families.

We are happy to announce an incredible line-up of non-GMO events across Massachusetts this month. Some are organized by us, some by our friends and Network Partners. The list is likely to grow and if we’ve missed any, let us know!