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After defeat in California, New Mexico takes on Monsanto and GMO producers

Published time: December 21, 2012 18:21
Edited time: December 21, 2012 22:21
Two demonstrators hold a sign during a rally in support of the state's upcoming Proposition 37 ballot measure in San Francisco, California October 6, 2012. (Reuters/Stephen Lam)

Two demonstrators hold a sign during a rally in support of the state's upcoming Proposition 37 ballot measure in San Francisco, California October 6, 2012. (Reuters/Stephen Lam)

A lawmaker in New Mexico wants to make it mandatory for genetically modified foods to be properly labeled in supermarkets across the state. Given the last attempt, though, it’s likely to be an uphill battle.

State Senator Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) has proposed an amendment that won’t be brought into debate until next year, but he hopes it will be approved so shoppers can be sure of what they’re putting into their bodies. If Sen. Wirth’s amendment is approved, it will make it mandatory that genetically engineered food and items containing GMOs are adequately labeled.

“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,” Wirth says of his proposal. “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.”

While Wirth’s legislation seems logical enough to be approved, precedent actually puts his amendment at risk. Just weeks earlier, residents of California shot down a bill that would have brought mandatory GMO labeling to the West Coast. In that instance, Proposition 37 was expected to be approved by voters, but on Election Day it was rejected by a margin of 53 to 47 percent. Proponents say the last-minute defeat was the result of a multi-million dollar campaign against the item that was waged by the biggest GMO companies in the country.

“Genetically engineered foods found on market shelves have most commonly been altered in a lab to either be resistant to being sprayed by large amounts of toxic herbicides, or to produce, internally, their own insecticide,” Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute said in a statement last month. “Corporations that produce both the genetically engineered crops and their designer pesticides, in concert with the multi-billion-dollar food manufacturers that use these ingredients, fought this measure tooth and nail, throwing $46 million at the effort that would have required food manufacturers to include informational labeling on GMO content on their packaging,”

In New Mexico, Sen. Wirth is already seeing an influx of support. If biotech giants Monsanto and Dow dump millions into efforts to discredit his amendment though, there could be some serious challenges. Meanwhile, he’s making headway in terms of getting people to talk about his plan.

“Giving foods with GE ingredients a label will only improve and expand independent health and scientific knowledge about genetic engineering,” Food & Water Watch’s New Mexico Organizer Eleanor Bravo says of his amendment. “We need the research of genetic engineering to be expanded beyond the companies who own the seeds and stand to profit and labeling will allow this to happen.”

Shortly before the defeat of Prop 37 in California, Lundberg Family Farms CEO Grant Lundberg said, "No matter what happens, we've raised awareness of a very important issue.”

Under Sen. Wirth’s proposal, companies that don’t properly label GMO items will be subject to penalties under current rules pertaining to “misbranding.”