Mass. Considers GMO Labeling Laws

Connecticut was the first state in the country to pass legislation requiring food containing GMOs be labeled as such. Pictured here in May, residents rally in support of the law. (CT Senate Democrats/Flickr)

Connecticut was the first state in the country to pass legislation requiring food containing GMOs be labeled as such. Pictured here in May, residents rally in support of the law. (CT Senate Democrats/Flickr)

BOSTON — The debate over whether foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, should have to be labeled as such is picking up steam. This month, Connecticut became the first state to pass a GMO labeling law, and Maine quickly followed. But due to lobbying by opponents, neither law will take effect unless several other states adopt similar legislation — and Massachusetts may become one of those.

Five GMO labeling bills are pending here, and WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer discussed the issue with Ed Stockman, of the group Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs, and Louis Finkel, executive vice president for government affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Sacha Pfeiffer: Ed, would you start by giving us some sense of how widespread genetically modified ingredients are in the foods we buy?

Ed Stockman: Well it’s really difficult to know that for certain because the foods are not labeled. If they were labeled, we’d know exactly how ubiquitous they are. But there are estimates that within 70 percent of processed foods in supermarkets have some ingredients that have been genetically engineered.

And Louis, does the Grocery Manufacturers Association generally agree with that estimate of 75 percent or so?

Some foods found in grocery stores advertise that they are made without GMOs. But there is no law in Massachusetts that requires products with GMOs to be labeled as such. (Damien Dovaganes/AP)

Some foods found in grocery stores advertise that they are made without GMOs. But there are no laws currently in effect in the U.S. that require products with GMOs to be labeled as such. (Damien Dovaganes/AP)

Louis Finkel: Well, I think it’s probably someplace between 70 to 80 percent. But to the question of whether or not we know how much genetically engineered ingredient is out there, the Department of Agriculture tracks how much is planted every year. And with corn, soy beans and sugar beets, the current USDA estimates are over 90 percent. So any products that contain those ingredients, which are the majority of packaged products in the grocery store, that’s probably about right. Products that contain sugar, that contain soy and soy extracts and oils, that contain canola, that contain oils from cottonseed — which are primary ingredients for many products, or at least partial ingredients for many products — contain those, which are all genetically engineered.

Louis, the Grocery Manufacturers Association opposes labeling. Why is that?

Louis Finkel: Let’s start with fact that this is prevalent, it’s been in marketplace for 20 years, and we’ve seen no health impacts — that, effectively, the technology is safe. And this isn’t me saying this. This is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This is the American Medical Association. This is the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the World Health Organization — that genetically engineered ingredients provide no material difference from their conventional counterparts and, as such, putting a label will be inherently misleading and confusing to consumers.

Ed, there has been pending legislation before that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods in Massachusetts. But there seems to be a real momentum now. What do you think accounts for that?

Ed Stockman: Well, it’s an issue whose time has really come. People are very concerned about what’s going on in the food industry in this country, and if these foods and crops were so good, like the biotech lobbyists tell us, you’d think they’d want to have them labeled. You’d think they would want to tout the fact that a particular processed food has GMO ingredients. Sixty-four nations of the world label or ban GMOs from their countries. There are only two industrialized nations that do not require labeling: the United States and Canada. And my question is, what do those other 64 nations know that Americans are not allowed to know?

Louis, another argument that advocates of labeling make is that we already label foods for sugar and fat and their nutritional content. So why not let consumers know this additional piece of information and let them make their own informed decision on whether to buy products with GMOs?

Louis Finkel: Well, Sacha, effectively this is an ingredient. There’s no material difference between conventional corn and genetically engineered corn, conventional soy and genetically engineered soy. They perform the same in our products. They provide no safety or health risks. And the nutritional content and the ingredient information provided on a package is to give consumers a clear picture of what’s in their products and if they have anything to be concerned about, like allergens.

So why not total honesty and transparency in labeling, whether it’s GMOs, whether it’s the sugar or fat contents? Why not put it all out there?

Louis Finkel: Again, it’s prevalent in the marketplace, Sacha. We don’t hide from that, we don’t shy away from that. But when government requires a label on a product, it’s to identify a risk for people to make clear choices. And choices already exist in the marketplace. If consumers opt to not want to purchase products with genetically engineered ingredients, they already have the ability to buy certified organic products, because to be certified organic you can’t have genetically engineered. Ed’s an organic farmer. He understands this very, very well, that consumers that opt to buy his products have made the decision.

Ed Stockman: I have many friends who do not eat organic or only eat organic partially. And they would like to know when they’re not buying organic whether something has GMO ingredients in it or not. Labels are education. We look at it that way. It’s a way of life today. Everyone reads labels. And it’s not a warning, it’s not a scare tactic. It’s just information so a consumer can base their purchases on that information.

Two legislative committees are considering the GMO labeling bills in Massachusetts and both recently held public hearings, but none of the bills have come up for a vote yet.

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  • SusanCR

    Thanks for this article. Did anyone else pick up on Louis Finkel saying that GMO’s have been in PROCESSED FOODS for the past 20 years? TWENTY YEARS? And have you noticed that there has been an increase in children’s various allergies (asthma, peanut/nut, corn, etc.), autism spectrum and other things that I never remember children having when I grew up in the 1960′s. Could there be a correlation? And if there is “nothing wrong with GMO’s”, there should be nothing wrong in letting consumers know what’s in their food. Maybe sugar and salt shouldn’t be on labels, too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      yup but who would fund research to find out?

    • mem_somerville

      Well, if you like correlations, you have to see this one:


      • Pat Zagame

        Thats the stupidest correlation I’ve ever seen.I suppose all those children were eating organic…not

        • Whitney

          You missed the point. Correlation does not equal causation.

    • Plantiful

      There may be a correlation here, but one of the beautiful facts about GMO food products is that it will be impossible to prove that this GMO food product caused autism for anyone. The food product companies are changing the entire food supply at the lowest, and deepest levels possible, without any fear of liability. It’s almost a near monopoly, protected by contracts and litigation. A perfectly profitable product! I am not feeding my kids any of that food product. I prefer to buy real food from real farmers.

    • JG

      With respect to the “increase in Autism,” most scientific papers are careful with their words — whereas the media that reports on these studies are not. They almost all exclusively mention it as a perceived rise in Autism as there is an understanding that since the 80s, diagnostics have changed quite a bit! So many people who are high functioning have been getting along in society just fine. Additionally, there is greater awareness of Autism these days. Many scientists are unsure if there has been an actual rise in Autism Spectrum disorders or if it is the result of greater awareness and diagnostic changes. IF it has risen, there are a plethora of possible reasons (maybe GMO maybe not). It could have been the result of pot smoking hippies or the relatively new plastics industry from then.


      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        it started when Rumsfeld’s corruption led to the legalization of aspartame. that’s an interesting story of corruption and cronyism

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    “that genetically engineered ingredients provide no material difference from their conventional counterparts and, as such, putting a label will be inherently misleading and confusing to consumers.”
    then why bother modifying it in the first place? if they can convince people its safe then people will buy it. its such a great example of what’s wrong with our country that we cant get these things labeled when they should probably be banned

    • Patches Wisely

      And if its no different then why do seed companies find a need to patent their seeds? And why would they feel the need to sue farmers for saving seeds as patent infringements?

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        all wonderful questions I would like them to answer. too bad this fluff piece did not address those.

        • zackrobbin

          yes, it would have been nice to have a more in-depth interview. but of course the reason that these products are marketed and patented is because there are benefits to the FARMER. There’s a difference, but it’s not at the consumer level. the food is the same, hence the argument that there’s no need to label the food.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            they benefit the company that supplies the farmer AKA Monsanto. Monsanto modifies the genes of food crops to make them hardy against their herbicide. this is handy for mega farmers although its starting to not work as well as the weeds become resistant (which means their genes are being altered indirectly) therefor GMO products are different in that they have all been doused in Round Up

          • zackrobbin

            If the concern is about pesticide residues, shouldn’t THAT be what we’re asking them to put on the labels? labeling GMO is a sloppy, indirect way to let consumers know about pesticide residues. RoundUp resistance is only one of the modified traits available, though currently the most popular. If these farmers weren’t using RoundUp, they’d probably be using something else — older, more toxic sprays — and they’d need to spray more often. not all pesticides are created equal, and RoundUp is better than much of the stuff it replaces. (Yes, I know it’s a poison, and no, I don’t want to drink a glass of it. I’m talking RELATIVE toxicity.)

            yes, weeds tend to develop resistance to pesticides, but this is not a problem specific to RoundUp — it’s been part of modern farming since before GMOs were introduced and would remain a problem if they were out of the picture. it really has nothing to do with the GMO labeling discussion.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            round up is a herbicide. that was just one obvious, inarguable difference I could think of.
            why not let consumers be informed about what they consume?
            the KNOWN risks of round up are relatively low, but who knows?
            there are many modern organic techniques that can replace all synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides. it would be impossible to switch to these methods overnight but it would happen pretty quick if the consumers demanded it.

    • Plantiful

      Granted, there are no known differences… perhaps we may find out in the next generation of kids….

      They [Monsanto, DuPont, etc…) modify their food products for financial gain with the claim that it is easier to grow and for greater yields. The Union of Concerned Scientists have written reports find that weeds are becoming resistant to Monsanto’s Round Up, and the yields are not all that greatly increased– certainly not worth the increased seed prices, increased risk of contract liability, loss of seed diversity, loss of organic products, and the unforeseen risks to our and our kids’ health.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        I wonder who would spend money to find out if these things had any long term effects. they told us tobacco was safe for a long time when everyone has always known tobacco was bad for you

    • JG

      The purpose of GMO products is not to chance the product to be different nutritionally. The point is to increase crop yield and make the plants more hardy to weather and environmental stresses. Should we research more into this especially considering the rate at which we release GMO products? Yes. Should we ban them outright? No. We still have a booming global population, and we need to change our agricultural patterns to adapt to it. Does this necessitate GMO? No, but as of now, it looks fairly promising.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        lol “weather and environmental stresses” they are modified to make them “round up ready” in other words “able to survive being hosed down with herbicide”. as we have seen with these GMO products already you cannot put the genie back in the bottle once you let the altered genes into the environment they can wreak all sorts of havoc like farmers whose heirloom wheat or corn has been tainted by monsanto’ and then not only is their crop ruined they get sued by Monsanto. actually our population does already depend on these GMO foods. I was thinking today if they actually labeled them it would be the end of the world as we know it because consumers would demand non gmo products and we do not have the ability to produce those using our current paradigm in sufficient quantity.

  • SusanCR

    Why is there not more discussion on this topic? It’s like old childrens toys with harmful plastics going into the trash!

  • Lawrence

    Let’s not only post here, but CALL your congressman and congresswomen. FLOOD their office with calls.

    Don’t stop. I have been calling and emailing Markey’s office to no avail, but I will keep trying.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      somehow I am not surprised try calling and say you want to make a donation. I bet they will get back to you

    • Vandermeer

      Call your STATE representative and senator… not your federal rep.

  • Sandy2118

    Thanks for this interview. Of course GMOs should be labeled so those of us, who pay attention, can better avoid them and people who are eating them now can notice that maybe they shouldn’t be. I do my best to eat organic. Whole Foods plans to label GMOs. Chipotle has become the first fast food chain to label GMOs. Personally, I want to know if I am consuming traces of Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate), which a recent MIT study linked to infertility and cancer. I agree with Susan CR below. There has been such a huge increase in disease in the past 20 years. The increase must come from something. Endocrine disruptors should not be on the menu. GMOs should be labeled.

    • JG

      Firstly, correlation does not equal causation. As someone pointed out in a comical (but accurate) graph below, there is a fairly strong correlation between organic food sales and autism. Is there any causation? Unlikely.

      If the paper you are referring to is
      it raises some good points, certainly, but it is a review of previous literature and some of the conclusions are somewhat strained. I don’t like this source too much, but this website does have a pretty decent critique of the paper

      Also, I wonder if you recall this deeply flawed study from France a year ago that linked Roundup and GMO Corn to cancer. It has since been denounced by all the major French scientific academies and many scientists around the world have urged for the publishers to redact the paper. More on that here:

      My point is that there are may be links between GMO products and certain ailments of the day. But a lot of things have changed in the past few decades and will continue to do so. I think more than anything else, education is needed.

      For a long time, the left has been portrayed as the science friendly half of American politics, with the right being ignorant with regards to evolution and creation. The left, however, is not without its flaws in terms of scientific acceptance. There is this hugely popular push for Naturalism (I urge you to read up on the Naturalistic Fallacy), and some of it is great but some of it is supported by as much science as Creationism.

      • Sandy2118

        I was not referring to the studies from France. Here is a page that provides links to the MIT study: http://blogs.prevention.com/inspired-bites/2013/04/26/a-new-study-highlights-the-risks-of-genetically-modified-foods-and-the-chemicals-used-on-them/ But the point is, whether you think GMOs are bad for health or not, the very least that governments can do is label them.

        • JG

          Okay, thanks for clarifying that.

          Yes, I think the response to the paper by the industry was certainly heavy handed, and the paper does raise very interesting and valid points with respect to the glyphosate’s impact on aromatic AA synthesis in our intestinal flora, but some of the claims are really out there.

          I agree with you that the government should label at the end of the day, but all I was trying to point out is that it’s not a clear cut obvious answer. There are legitimate non-corporate conspiracy rationales as to why one may want to refrain from labeling GMO products. I personally believe that we should educate the consumer on what GMO is and is not, and yes, turn the choice to the consumer.

          • Sandy2118

            I run a green B&B on Cape Cod and am surprised by how many guests are GMO-literate.

          • JG

            I work in a genetics lab studying genetic disorders. I, too, am frightened to see people who are GMO-illiterate and either don’t care or become immensely fearful immediately. I personally, don’t want us to cast aside a really neat field of science just due to fears. I love my reddish grapefruit, a GMO product since the 1930s (possibly even earlier) with some strains further modified by radiation in the 70s

          • Sandy2118

            What I detest is glyphosate and, if there is any risk of it in my food or water, I go ballistic. I hate that the EPA wants to raise the allowed amount, rather than lower it. I love that people ARE becoming informed. Monsanto and other such companies got away with murder in the past. You should read The Polluters by Ross & Amter to acquire a real understanding of the chemical industry in this country and how they found new uses for products developed during the war.

      • townie1952

        Why is it that people without billions of dollars in funding have to prove harm, conclusively , but monster corporations do not have to prove conclusively that their products are doing no harm? Since when are blogs regarded as fact?
        Where do you expect the “more education” to come from? I’m sure that the chemical companies would be happy to fund any counter research to continue to insert questions into the issue to claim that more study is needed.
        We know that DDT damaged the shell production of wild birds. Did the companies who produced it do the research? No.
        I regard myself as part of “the left” and very science friendly. I know that the world was not created 5500 years ago.
        If we can’t conclusively prove that GMO crops are harmful, does that mean we deserve to be deceived into eating them?

  • Isaak Berkun


  • Vandermeer

    I would have liked Sacha to have asked Ed Stockman just what are the health concerns re: GMO foods. Louis Finkel said there are NO differences between non-GMO foods and GMO foods. The health concerns from Stockman were sadly MISSING! So I found the interview lacking.

  • J__o__h__n

    The label could include that there are studies that conclude there is no difference. Let the consumer decide. The rest of the world gets to.

  • zackrobbin

    currently available GMO foods are safe. period. labels wouldn’t “inform” anyone of anything that actually matters. if you want to know, the information isn’t a secret, and many brands now advertise their non-gmo status, too. labeling would be a cost with no benefit. it might even scare some people away from perfectly good food and unfairly hurt business that are doing nothing wrong — conversely, it might drive more customers to certain brands that are GMO free . . . and guess who is funding these campaigns?

    all that said, at this point I’d almost rather that they just slap a little “May contain GMO” on every single product in the supermarket and then we can all move on from this ridiculous argument and get back to the ongoing project of safely producing all the food that our growing population needs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      of course that’s what they should do. it may also cause a shift in demand for less processed and organic products which is already a trend

    • townie1952

      Who do you think is using corporate clout and millions and millions of dollars to defeat citizens petitions to label? Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, Kraft, PepsiCo, etc. What is wrong with letting people decide whether on not they want to consume them? I am not trying to remove these products from the market, but I don’t want to eat them. How can you support deceiving me into eating something that I don’t want to eat?

  • MM

    “genetically engineered ingredients provide no material difference from their conventional counterparts and, as such, putting a label will be inherently misleading and confusing to consumers”

    Who are you to tell me what will be “confusing” to me?? We have a right to know what we are buying and eating!

    • JG

      I agree, people have a right to know. I do, however, fear that some people will have a disproportionate response to GMO products. AAAS released against the labeling of GMO products. I think it’s worth a read. What we’ve done to GMO over the past few decades is not unlike what we have been doing as a civilization since Mendel. The only difference is that we now have a firmer understanding of the science behind what we are doing, and therefore, can accelerate the process rather than relying on selective breeding.


      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        that’s one way to put it. things can be achieved with genetic engineering that would be impossible with selective breeding. another way to describe genetic modification is “playing god”.

  • eSuzy

    I’m disappointed with the way Monsanto has treated farmers that don’t use their GMO seeds. If one seed floats over from a neighboring farm into their crops, Monsanto has sued to take the land. Disgraceful.

  • Emma Lou Schwichtenberg Cousen

    Having been on the original DEP/DEPT of Health in the ’80 that proposed and got the informational signs the Lawn Care Industry has to place after treatment of lawn and Lobbied against the use of Alar (a component of Agent Orange which lead to the state banning it, I am proud to see Mass take the lead against GMOs.

  • Rose Cupo

    1 Google News Result “Morgellons disease” “CDC” “failed to investigate the involvement of Agrobacterium” http://plus.google.com/105771816680961550541/posts/fjPC7sLkftR

  • jake

    ASPARTAME and all the rest brought to you by CHICAGO corn industry.

    Revenge the BRÙINS — I am aslo proud that MASS is taking the lead on fighting the COMPANY

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      aspartame is rumsfelds way of killing more americans than invading Iraq. I don’t know if Rumsfeld is a chicagoen

  • http://geneticallyengineeredfoodnews.com Ella Baker

    Passing a GMO Labelling law is not the answer for people who want to have a clean food.

    • Huntsvillecoalition 4Democracy

      Then what is?

  • caitlin

    Its not only a debate of whether or not GMOs are good or bad for the body, but a general ethical debate on farming practices and good business. Monsanto promised that farmers would have to use less pesticides if they switched to GMO plants, but that has not been the case. The Roundup ready seeds are not the only plants becoming resistant to the herbicide. Thus, farmers have to use more of the TOXIC CHEMICALS to kill now strains of super-weeds and pests. By increasing the levels of these biocides in our environment, our environment is being greatly damaged (soil, water supply, beneficial insects). Not only this, but Monsanto has literally black-listed farmers and those associated who are not growing their GMO seeds. If for some reason an organic farm is contaminated with a GMO plant, the farmer can be sued for patent violation. They may also lose business because their crop is no longer organic, and therefore, cannot be labeled as so. Many countries will not import our tainted GMO crops leaving our non-GMO farmers S.O.L if contaminated.
    I highly doubt that these crops are “just as good” as conventional or organic plants. After being in the food industry my whole life, I have never seen so many food allergies in people (ESPECIALLY CHILDREN) as I have now. Its all about money and power and who controls the seed and its sad that the government accepts studies done by bio-ag companies supporting their own products.

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