by Robert Lang
In the final weeks of the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session, some lawmakers are considering legislation to require any food containing genetically modified grain have special labels, if they are sold in Maryland.
The House Health and Government Operations Committee held a hearing today on the bill, after a Senate committee held a hearing on an identical version of the bill last week.
The bill would apply to processed foods that contain genetically modified, wheat, corn, rice, soy, or any other ingredient that has been altered.
Colin O'Neil, director of government affairs for the Center for Food Safety, says foods containing what are called GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are not dangerous, but they are a hidden ingredient in about 70,000 processed foods. However he argues that
"This bill is about providing consumers with transparency, to allow them to know what they are buying and feeding their families," O'Neil told WBAL News.
"It also provides a vital public health tool for Maryland physicians, to be able to track any unintended health effects, should they arise."
He notes the labeling law is already in effect in Connecticut and Maine, as well as in 64 countries around the world.
Representatives from food manufacturers, retailers, and distributors testified against the bill.
They argue that it would be too costly for their companies to produce special labels only for products sold in Maryland.
One lobbyist for retailers argued that the bill amounts to a First Amendment violation, as the government is ordering commercial speech.
An official from Medifast, the weight loss company headquartered in Owings Mills, testified the bill would impact whether or not the company would continue to sell their products, which contain soy, in Maryland.
"It would be extremely difficult for us to produce a product for labeling in one state. It would simply be easier to take that state out of our stream of commerce," said Medifast legal assistant Erika Sealing, during her testimony.
Under follow-up questioning from one delegate, Sealing noted that the company would not move its manufacturing operations out of Maryland if this bill passed, but it would not likely sell its products here.
The House bill is sponsored by Montgomery County Democratic Delegate Ariana Kelly.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Montgomery County Democratic Senator Karen Montgomery.
With less than three weeks in the legislative session, it is not clear if either version of the bill will be voted out of committee, before this year's legislative session ends.