Connecticut’s ongoing debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is now going to be involved in the controversy about stopping pesticide use on school grounds, thanks to a legislative committee\’s action Friday.
The General Assembly’s Environment Committee approved a bill that would both expand this state’s current ban on the use of pesticides at schools and prevent GMO grass seed from being sold in Connecticut. The vote was 17-11 to send the legislation to the state Senate for action.
The legislation was pushed through by the panel’s Democratic majority despite objections from Republicans about what they called “severe and important constitutional issues.”
The GMO grass seed ban was attached to a bill that would expand Connecticut’s current prohibition on using pesticides on the grounds of schools for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The new legislation would also cover high schools, public parks, playgrounds, playing fields and municipal greens.
Lawn-care industry folks and many school officials say pesticides are needed to control grubs and weeds that are infesting school grounds, and they’ve been asking to have the existing K-8 ban rolled back.
Prohibiting the sale of GMO grass seed was an idea launched last week by a top legislative leader, Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr. of Brooklyn. He and many environmental activists say those seeds have been modified to withstand Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup, and that sale of such seeds would only encourage more homeowners to spray more chemicals on their lawns.
Last year, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to pass a law that could lead to labeling of all GMO products sold in this state. The catch in that legislation is that a number of surrounding states with large populations would also have to enact similar labeling laws before Connecticut’s can take effect.
State Rep. Mary M. Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, insisted preventing the sale of those seeds would be “stopping a problem before it gets to Connecticut.” So far, those seeds haven’t been sold here but some major lawn-care companies say they plan to offer Roundup resistant GMO grass seed in the future.
The GOP opposition was led by the committee’s top ranking-Republican, state Rep. John Shaban of Redding. He called the proposed ban on GMO grass “unconstitutional, unvetted and untested.”
Some farmers, landscapers and nursery operators in Connecticut are opposed to the GMO seed ban, fearful that it could impact their costs of doing business. They insist GMO seeds could actually reduce the amount of pesticide needed to keep lawns weed free.
The fact that the GMO seed prohibition was being “dropped on the back of a pesticide bill” was another sore point for Republicans, who pointed out that there had been no formal public hearing on the issue. State Rep. Craig A. Minor, R-Litchfield, charged that what the Democrats were doing was “hijacking the process.”
None of those arguments swayed the panel’s Democratic majority. The committee’s Senate chairman, Edward Meyer of Guilford, said Williams and others – including a number of opponents – had discussed the GMO issue at length at a hearing last week.
Meyer did admit that the legislative “process here in Hartford can be erratic,” but claimed what was happening with the anti-GMO seed proposal wasn’t as odd as what has happened to lots of other legislation in the General Assembly.