In early January, Maine became the second state in the country to implement a law that requires labeling for foods produced with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  However, the requirement will go into effect only after four other contiguous states (at least one of which must border Maine) approve similar legislation.  Maine’s law follows Connecticut’s GMO Labeling Bill, which was passed in June 2013 with a similar requirement that it not go into effect until four other states, one of which must share a border with Connecticut and whose populations total more than 20 million people, enact similar measures.

Maine’s Act to “Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right to Know about Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock” requires a conspicuous disclosure reading “Produced with Genetic Engineering,” to be located on the package or label of a product produced using genetic modification.  The legislation also prohibits any produce that is labeled as such from also being labeled as “natural”.

The disclosure is not required for food served in restaurants, alcoholic beverages, or medical foods.  The bill also defines exceptions for foods made without the knowledge that genetically engineered ingredients were involved in the production, or if the distributor or retailer relied on sworn testimony from the producer stating that the food was not genetically modified.  Additionally, the disclosure is not required for food derived from an animal that was not itself genetically engineered but was fed genetically engineered feed.

Maine’s legislation states that the purpose of the law includes increasing public health and food safety; assisting consumers who are concerned about the environmental impacts of GMOs in making informed purchasing decisions; reducing consumer confusion regarding food labels; and creating market opportunities for food producers who are not certified organic producers but whose products are not produced using genetic engineering.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, approximately 30 states are considering similar legislation.  Alaska passed a law requiring labeling for genetically modified foods in 2005, but that law applies only to genetically engineered fish and shellfish.  Washington state voters rejected a similar initiative in a November ballot initiative, but state lawmakers are continuing the debate and have since introduced at least two bills requiring GMO labeling for specific types of foods.

The full text of Maine’s new legislation can be found here.

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