Conn. Makes History as State Senate Approves GMO Labeling Bill

State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams (D-Brooklyn) speaks on importance of labeling foods.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams (D-Brooklyn) speaks on importance of labeling foods. Src: GMO Free CT

Connecticut made history last night, May 21, by voting in favor of a bill that would require the labeling of genetically engineered food, becoming the second state to do so, following Vermont. Following a rally of more than 400 people gathered outside the state capitol in support of the bill, the State Senate approved the bill, 35-1, which would give the public the right to know if genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are in their food.

“A mounting body of evidence suggests the production and consumption of genetically modified foods is harmful to human health and to the environment,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams (D-Brooklyn). “This first-in-the-nation legislation will ensure Connecticut citizens have all of the information they need to make informed, healthy choices when feeding their families. This is the most important fight of our generation when it comes to food.”

The bill applies to wholesale and retail food, produce, and seeds that are produced — whole or in part — with GMOs and requires them to be labeled as “Produced with Genetic Engineering.” The legislation would not apply to “ready-to-eat” foods, such as those served at a restaurant or food stand.

Src: GMO Free CT

Src: GMO Free CT

While the Food and Drug Administration and other scientific bodies have said there is no definitive evidence that GM foods are “inherently dangerous” or substantially different from conventionally produced foods, there has been rising concern over the potential negative health effects. Currently, more than 60 countries mandate labels for GMO foods.

“Connecticut is setting an example for the rest of the country to follow. The time for GMO labeling is now. Americans should have the right to know just as the citizens of 64 other countries already do,” said Lisa Stokke, Co-Founder and Director of Food Democracy Now, a national organization dedicated to protecting our food supply.

“We applaud the Senate for their proactive and brave step toward giving Connecticut citizens the transparency in our food that we deserve,” said Tara Cook-Littman, Director of GMO Free CT. “We hope that the leadership in the House will do the right thing and call SB 802 for a vote.”

Up until this point, the GMO labeling bills were house bills, but in a surprising move, Williams and Minority Leader of the Senate, Sen. John McKinney (R-Fairfield), made a bi-partisan announcement that the Senate would introduce a GMO labeling bill in the Senate and planned to call it for a vote.

The bill must next face the House of Representatives, and if passed and signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, will not take into effect until at least three other states pass similar legislation by July 2015.

Whitney Riggs, of GMO Free CT, is hopeful for swift support. “We have a coalition of states [for mandatory GMO labeling), with 37 states represented. We’re making noise throughout whole country,” she said. “Vermont passed a bill in House. Maine is close to bringing it to a vote.”

In an interview with Connecticut Post near the bill approval, Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey, while supportive of the legislation, expressed concerns with Connecticut’s pioneering role. “”My concern all along has been the question of whether Connecticut should put itself out on its own, requiring this labeling and whether that puts us at an economic disadvantage being the first and only state to do this,” he said.

According to CT News Junkie, Sharkey added that New York, with one of the largest economies in the country, is a crucial state to have on board as one of the three additional states to act as trigger for the bill.

“We weren’t brought into the conversation about what the Senate is actually running,” said Sharkey. “There’s a substantial chance that we’re going to be making substantial changes to it here in the House.”

With Rep. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield) and Amanda J. Wendt at State Capitol Building in Hartford,CT. Src: GMO Free CT

With Rep. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield) and Amanda J. Wendt at State Capitol Building in Hartford,CT.
Src: GMO Free CT

In a 2010 survey conducted by Reuters and National Public Radio, 93 percent of respondents from more than 100,000 U.S. households said genetically engineered foods should be labeled.

“We are not determining whether GMO’s are good or bad; that is a personal choice,” Rep. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield), told the crowd outside the CT State Capitol, “but the fact of the matter is, we are asking for the right to know what we are putting into our body. When you strip down the argument, it’s as simple as that.”

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