AUGUSTA, Maine (NECN) - Concerns over genetically modified crops have prompted legislation in more than thirty states, where advocates are calling for clear labeling on all food that comes from genetically altered seeds.
In Maine, more than two hundred organic farmers and consumers rallied at the state Capitol in support of what could be the nation's first GMO label law.
"GMO" is short for genetically modified organism. It refers to seeds that have been genetically altered to promote certain desirable traits such as pest resistance.
A lot of food, seventy percent by some estimates, use ingredients grown from GMO seed, but most consumers aren't aware of this.
Chanting "No, No, GMO," close to 200 organic farmers and consumer activists held signs saying "Right to Know" outside the state Capitol Tuesday.
They're pushing for a new law that would require labeling any product that's made from genetically engineered crops.
"We're all guinea pigs and were consuming this food and many people don't know this technology is being foisted upon them," said Heather Spalding, Interim Director for the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association.
The bill, LD 718, is sponsored by Republican Representative Lance Harvell of Farmington.
"When the FDA won't test the food, then it's the responsibility of the states to give people the right to know whats in their food."
While the vast majority of the crowd at the public hearing supported the bill, there is some opposition.
Both the Maine Grocers' Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization testified against it.
Lobbyist Bob Tardy, who works for BIO, says labeling food would make consumers needlessly fearful.
"We've been eating this food for 20 years, and there's no illness from GMO ingredients," says Tardy.
But supporters say it's all about accountability.
"It's time to ask them what are you afraid of?" said, C. R. Lawn of Fedco Seeds. "What are you hiding?"
If this bill passes it wouldn't change anything right away. It requires five other states, or enough states with a combined population of 20 million, to pass similar legislation. Only then would MAINE'S law go into effect.
The activists gathered today hope Maine will lead the nation in GMO food labeling and that going forward, consumers will have more information about what's in their food and what's not.