By Carol Kozma, State House correspondent, Sentinel & Enterprise
When Sheila Lumi asked farmers what they thought of genetically modified organisms at the Fitchburg Farmers Market, she discovered that, like herself, they knew very little about the subject.
“A lot of people heard about GMOs,” said Lumi, who manages the farmers market, during a phone interview. “They know what it stands for and that, you know, the food is being genetically altered, but not enough to talk about it.”
Legislation that would require the food industry to label genetically modified products have sprouted in many states, including Massachusetts.
State Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, filed one of five bills on the issue. He said people will need to learn more on the subject before any bill passes.
“GMOs have been around for quite a while,” DiNatale said. “(But) I don’t think people know what GMOs are.”
DiNatale sees benefits in GMOs, which were developed to resolve famine issues by producing drought- or disease-resistant crops. But he is also aware of controversial studies that claim GMOs may be harmful.
His solution is to require producers to label foods that are genetically modified.
“I am not so concerned about coming down on one side or another, whether (a GMO) is beneficial or harmful,” DiNatale said. “Until the science is worked out, I think we should at the very least provide that knowledge to the consumer.”
DiNatale said the fact that he has not been contacted by any opposition means there is more work ahead. Both constituents and legislators have little understanding of what GMOs are, and he expects big corporations might oppose the bill because of the costs of labeling.
Calls to Monsanto, an international company that develops genetically modified agricultural products to support farmers, went unanswered. The company opposes GMO labeling, according to its website:
“We oppose mandatory labeling of food and ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks, as it could be interpreted as a warning or imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterpart.”
Twenty-eight other states saw a total of 95 GMO-related bills filed in 2013, said Doug Farquhar, director of the Environmental Health Program of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides research to legislatures around the country.
“We saw a little explosion of GMO labeling (bills),” he said.
Connecticut is the only state to have passed a labeling law; however, four other states including a bordering state must also pass a labeling law before it takes effect.
Lumi, the Fitchburg market manager, said although she does not necessarily oppose GMOs, she prefers natural foods until she understands how GMOs might affect people.
“I don’t want to feel like I am part of a science experiment,” she said. “It’s like, let’s eat and see what happens 10 years from now.”