Was your salmon dinner grown in a lab, or out in nature? And what about those innocent-looking ears of corn in the produce aisle? How about the cans in your pantry? Maine’s Legislature is mulling an act that would require food companies to label genetically modified food — and for the consumer that would mean more food transparency here.

The bill, LD 991, would require foods distributed in Maine to include a label if genetically modified organisms were used to produce the final product. Exempt from the requirement are restaurants, medical food and alcoholic beverages.

The proposed bill also seeks to free Maine from the manacles of a 2014 law that tied its genetically engineered food labeling initiatives to similar actions in four contiguous states — Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, wants Maine to stand on its own on the issue of GMO labeling. The amendment also seeks to remove the sunset clause, a 2018 deadline that repeals the law if all states don’t comply in time.

“We want to remove the contingencies to free Maine to act on its own,” said Dunphy, who expects the bill, which was tabled Thursday, to resurface in a work session later this legislative session. “Consumers have the right to choose. I don’t feel it will have a huge impact on how people shop.”

Manufacturers would have to make sure all products they put on their shelves have the label: “Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

As the anti-GMO movement gains traction across the country, even major food companies such as Campbell Soup have recently taken a stand on the issue. The food giant now supports mandatory national labeling for products. Last year, Hershey’s dumped beet sugar from Minnesota because it carried genetically modified seeds.

There are hurdles to be cleared at the federal level and in Vermont, which caused the bill to be tabled Thursday, Dunphy said. A similar go-it-alone initiative in Vermont is being analyzed for constitutional issues.

“I feel strongly it will pass, but a lot hinges on the other two issues. Maine is a leader agriculturally in so many ways,” Dunphy, a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said. “Why not take a lead on this? Set the stage.”

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.