A key legislative committee on Tuesday endorsed a bill requiring food with genetically modified ingredients carry a label.
But the public health committee made some changes to the proposal before passing it on a vote of 23 to 4.
Under the revisions to House Bill 6519, the labeling mandate in Connecticut would kick in only after two other Northeastern states adopted a similar requirement. The trigger mechanism is designed to ensure Connecticut would not be the only state require such labels, lawmakers said.
Currently no state requires that foods manufactured with genetically ingredients carry labels, although labeling bills are pending in nearly two dozen states this year, including Vermont and Maine. GMO labels are required in the European Union and several other countries.
The bill drew dozens of supporters to the state Capitol for a hearing last month. Among the crowd was Jerry Greenfield, a co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, which says it does not use GMOs in its products.
Greenfield and others pushing for labeling laws say consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. Genetically altered ingredients are found in many processed foods, although not those grown organically. 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.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, several lawmakers voiced concern that the labeling mandate might not pass Constitutional muster. But Rep. Phil Miller, D-Essex, dismissed those concerns. “There’s not a single person here, even the most prescient among us, who knows that this will be ruled unconstitutional,” he said.
Others said they worry such a rule would out Connecticut farmers at an unfair disadvantage. If you do this to our local farmers and not to national chains or national farming…you’re actually hurting the people that mean so much to our economy in the state of Connecticut,” said Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown. “This is an issue that should take effect on a national stage and not necessarily harm the very farmers we are looking to protect.”
Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, said her own family’s farming experience has led her to support the bill. “We used pesticides like they were going out of style,” she said. “I have a lot of cancer and a lot of auto-immune diseases in my family…I’m empathetic to the farmers, but what I’ve seen in my own family is proof enough for me.”