Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
President’s Letter

By Sharon Tisher, 2000 MOFGA President

Earlier this year, MOFGA wrote to each of our representatives in Congress, asking them to cosponsor the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act [HR 3377 and S 2080]. Our letter, reprinted in the last issue of The MOF&G, traced the history of Maine citizens’ concern and legislative initiatives on GE labeling, back to 1993, before a single genetically engineered food or food ingredient had yet hit the supermarket shelves. We asked our senators and congressmen to study, and be guided by, the 1996 report of the Maine Commission to Study Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Issues, in which a stakeholder group from a wide variety of backgrounds reached consensus that there should be a federal requirement of labeling GE food, and should be a mandatory requirement of premarket notification for development of those foods [there still isn’t]. We pointed to the innumerable polls that confirm consumers’ desire to know whether their food has been engineered, and the scientific fallacies behind the FDA’s position that engineered foods can be comfortably assumed to be “Generally Recognized as Safe” [fallacies that since have been recognized by a National Academy of Sciences panel report which called for more safety testing of GE foods]. We pointed out that the FDA’s secret, confessed intent to “foster” the biotech industry was, in this instance, clearly inconsistent with its legislative mandate to “promote honest and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.”

With our state having been, all along, in the forefront of concern and activism on the issue of genetically engineered food, one would think that at least one of our representatives in Congress would join Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Barbara Boxer, lead sponsors of these bills, and the dozens of other distinguished congresspeople and senators who signed on as cosponsors. However, as of this writing, not one of them has stepped up to bat.

We have received gracious and polite responses from Senators Snowe and Collins, and Congressmen Allen and Baldacci. Each of them thanked us for our letter, and assured us that they appreciated hearing from us. Each of them attempted to demonstrate that they were well informed on the subject. Tom Allen takes the prize for the most well-researched response, in that he volunteered that he was aware that organic farmers “have additional concerns not related only to labeling, specifically genetic drift.” Allen was aware of the risks of genetic cross-pollination, as well as the risk that GE Bt crops present for development of insect resistance to Bt sprays. Congratulations, Tom! Susan Collins gave us the least well-researched and relevant response, saying that she was “aware of no Senate bill that addresses labeling or safety testing of genetically engineered food in particular,” and focusing on a discussion of her work on the issue of food-borne illnesses from unsafe food imports.

However, in the end, none of our representatives agreed to cosponsor the bills; they just promised to continue to study the issue.

Here’s where you come in. It’s time to let them know how you feel. Call them up and ask them why they haven’t taken a stand on this issue. You might want to point out that since MOFGA’s letter went out, there’s a new development that might dramatically change the complexion of food, and politics, and food politics, in Maine. A move is afoot (see “Maine Referendum Campaign on Genetic Engineering” in the News section of this MOF&G) to get signatures for a citizen’s referendum to require GE labeling in Maine. Getting the requisite signatures should be a breeze in this presidential election year. From there on, biotech industry money will be pouring into Maine to finance a campaign of fear and obfuscation, and the battle will rage. Even the brave initiators of this referendum admit that they’d rather see this happen on the national level, with uniform labeling requirements for all. Without the support and leadership of Maine’s own Congressional delegation on GE labeling, it’s easy to see why Mainers are turning to exercise their referendum rights.

I’ve included email addresses here; however, my general understanding is that phone calls get much more attention. Politicians get as many as 5000 emails a month.

Susan Collins: 202-224-2523 or 207-945-0417; Senator@collins.senate.gov

Olympia Snowe: 202-224-5344 or 207-945-0432; Olympia@snowe.senate.gov

Tom Allen: 202-225-6116 or 207-774-5019; rep.tomallen@mail.house.gov

John Baldacci: 202-225-6306 or 207-942-6935 baldacci@ma02.house.gov

While you’re at it, you might ask Collins and Snowe why they haven’t joined Allen and Baldacci in supporting The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (C.A.R.A.), which would makes millions of dollars available in Maine for land and marine resources conservation.
MOF&G Cover Summer 2000