By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
AUGUSTA, Maine â A Monday morning rally in the State House to show support for a bill that would require more stringent labeling of potentially harmful chemicals in food packaging failed to convince Gov. Paul LePage, who vetoed the bill later in the day.
On Monday afternoon, LePage vetoed LD 1181, which passed unanimously through the House and Senate. It joins a long list of vetoed bills that legislators will vote on Tuesday, when they return to the State House for another day of override votes.
LD 1181 would require food companies with gross annual sales of more than $1 billion to report whether they use potentially toxic chemicals, such as bisphenol A, in their products and packaging. Bisphenol A, which is known as BPA, is used in the lining of some canned foods and jar lids and has been shown to cause a range of health problems and hormone imbalances, especially in children and pregnant women.
LePage wrote in his veto letter that the bill goes too far beyond changes enacted during the last legislative session to Maine’s Priority Chemicals Law and represents an unfunded mandate for the Department of Environmental Protection.
“These efforts will require significant resources and such resources are not forthcoming,” wrote LePage. “The agency can’t do something with nothing.”
The bill was amended in the Senate to cut the more than $300,000 fiscal note down to being possible “within existing resources.” LePage wrote that he is hesitant to reopen a debate about which chemicals should be considered of “high concern” without funding to support the work and that he is watching the federal government’s deliberations on the Toxic Substances Control Act, which he said might accomplish the same thing as LD 1181.
“I am willing to engage further in such dialogue but the bill as drafted goes too far and constitutes an unfunded mandate,” he wrote.
LePage’s veto came just hours after a rally in the bill’s support.
“For parents like me, this bill would mean that I can finally have the right to know with certainty whether or not a can of soup or beans contains a chemical that can harm the development of my child,” said Morgan Pottle Urquhart of Bangor, who appeared at Monday’s rally at the State House with her 3-year-old son, Dexter. “Like all parents I try to do everything I can to keep my child safe.”
Betty Allen, who owns a housekeeping coaching company in Auburn called Mainetaine, said more and more families are becoming sensitive to the dangers of chemicals in foods.
“Consumers want to know what they’re buying,” she said. “I believe the power of the free market system can make stronger the reputable companies and make weaker the nonreputable ones.”
Jessica Graham, a mother of two from Waterville, said the fight to identify chemicals in foods is far from over, no matter what happens with LD 1181.
“We aren’t going to stop pushing for this access to information that affects our health and the health of our children,” said Graham. “We deserve to know what’s in the products that surround us so we can make our own informed and healthy choices.”
Monday’s event ended at the door to LePage’s office, where the group hoped the governor would emerge to support the bill. But he didn’t.
The full Legislature returns to Augusta on Tuesday to take action on LePage’s vetoes and wrap up other business before adjourning until early 2014 or if called back earlier for a special session.