A bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Tuesday publicly threw their support behind a bill that would require food made with genetically modified organisms to carry labels.
But even if the measure were also approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, it would not take effect until at least three other states pass similar legislation.
“We’re not banning anything, we’re not restricting anything, we’re not taxing anything,” said John McKinney, R-Fairfield and the Republican leader in the state Senate. “We’re just saying let moms and dads know what’s in the food their buying for their young kids…that’s not a lot to ask.”
Genetically altered ingredients are found in many processed foods. Through gene-splicing and other techniques, farmers have modified crops to more resistant to disease. The bioscience industry, food makers and the federal government say such foods are safe but activists worried about longterm health impacts have led the push for labels.
Connecticut is one of more than a dozen states currently considering mandates that such foods to be labelled. A bill cleared the legislature’s public health committee earlier this spring but appeared stalled until Tuesday’s push by McKinney, Senate President Donald Williams and other high-profile lawmakers.
“This is the most important fight of our generation when it comes to food,” Williams told dozens of activists who had gathered on the north steps of the state Capitol to hear the announcement. Williams said he is particularly concerned about the potential environmental impact that GMOs could have on the earth’s ecosystems. “If we don’t stand up now, there will be consequences that our children and their grandchildren will see in their lifetimes.”
The bioscience industry says GMOs are safe and vows to fight labeling laws.
“There’s a lot of emotion that’s surrounding this bill right now,” said Paul Pescatello, a board member of Connecticut United for Research Excellence, which advocates on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, research institutions and agriculture concerns in the state. “There’s a alot of science out there about GMO foods and GMO crops and people should look at the science, they should read the science, they should understand the science and then…make a decision.”
Requiring labels on GMO foods could raise constitutional issues around free speech, Pescatello said. “There’s an implication that there’s something wrong with GMO foods, that there’s sort of a scarlet letter attached to it,” he said.
But proponents of the labeling law say consumers can make up their own minds. Some members of Congress are pushing for federal legislation and in March, Whole Foods Market, the giant supermarket chain, announced it will require all GMO foods sold in its stores to be labeled by 2018
“It is not a Democrat or Republican issue, it is a fundamental right to know,” Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, told the crowd outside the Capitol. “We are not determining whether GMOs are good or bad; that is a personal choice, 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.”
Malloy, it seems, sees both sides of the debate. “Those that favor the labeling provision are passionate in their pursuit – the Governor has heard and appreciates their concerns,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said.
“Those concerns must be balanced with the needs of Connecticut’s farmers and small businesses, not to mention working families concerned about their grocery bill. Connecticut is part of a national and global economy, and any solution must recognize that fact. The Governor believes that finding the right balance is essential.”