New Mexico GMO labeling bill heads for state legislature

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags United states senate

Sen Peter Wirth: 'New Mexicans deserve the right to know what’s in the food they are eating'
Sen Peter Wirth: 'New Mexicans deserve the right to know what’s in the food they are eating'
New Mexico has joined Washington and California to become the latest US state asked to consider mandatory labeling for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.

The bill​ (SB18), pre-filed in the New Mexico State Senate before Christmas and sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), an attorney, would mandate the labeling of food and commercial animal feed containing genetically modified material and amends the New Mexico Food Act.

SB 18, which can be viewed here​, will be taken up by the legislature when the session begins on January 15, Eleanor Bravo, New Mexico Organizer at consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch​ told FoodNavigator-USA.

"This is different to Prop 37​ [Californian GMO labeling initiative that was narrowly defeated last November]. It's not a ballot, it's a proposed amendment to the New Mexico Food Act and will go to the senate, then the committee stage, and if it passes, it will go to the senate floor, and if it passes there it will go to the House."

GMO labels must be ‘conspicuous and easily understandable to consumers’

Under the proposed law (which doesn’t have any private enforcement provisions, and makes no reference to whether foods labeled as 'natural' can contain GMOs), any product containing more than 1% by weight of a genetically modified material would need to be labeled.

But these omissions were deliberate, said Food & Water Watch, which approached Senator Wirth to introduce the bill.

Bravo added: "Sen Wirth wanted to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible. He also felt that the agency for enforcement should be the government."

Genetically modified material is defined as a substance that has been “produced, enhanced, or otherwise modifiedthrough the use of recombinant, deoxyribonucleic aid technology, genetic engineering or bioengineering.”

As regards labeling, it stipulates that the “information shall be displayed in a manner that is conspicuous and easily understandable to consumers”.

New Mexicans deserve the right to know what’s in the food they are eating

New Mexico’s environmental improvement board​, meanwhile, will be tasked with adopting and promulgating “rules to establish standards for measuring and quantifying the amount of genetically modified material in food​”, it says.

Companies that don’t properly label GMO items will be subject to penalties under current rules pertaining to selling misbranded foods.

“The premise of this amendment is simple – New Mexicans deserve the right to know what’s in the food they are eating and feeding to their families​,” said Senator Wirth.

“Labeling GE foods and feed will empower consumers with basic information to help them decide for themselves the types of food they want to buy.”

Momentum building  

The bill is the latest in a series of state-based initiatives aiming to force companies to label foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, and follows California’s Proposition 37 - which was narrowly defeated in November - and Washington State’s I-522​, which has just secured enough signatures to go to the state legislature​.

Meanwhile, momentum for GMO labeling is also building on other states, with consumer advocacy group GMO Free Oregon​ working to gain support for a statewide ‘Right to Know’ GMO labeling initiative to be put to the legislature in 2014 and other initiatives in Florida and Connecticut also gaining momentum.

The Washington initiative still needs to be certified. However, this is all but a certainty as it needs slightly more than 240,000 valid signatures and currently has more than 340,000.

After that it will go to the legislature, which can either adopt it as law, send it on to the voters or send an amended version that would appear on a November, 2013 ballot alongside the original version.

However, it’s most likely that the legislature will send the initiative on to the voters as it stands now, State Senator Marilyn Chase told FoodNavigator-USA. Click here​ for more details.

Tipping point

Ultimately, if momentum gains across scores of states, a "tipping point​" will be reached at which time the federal government will have to address GMO labeling, predicted Bravo.

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