Connecticut Residents Push for Mandatory GMO Labeling
Left to right: Analiese Paik of the Fairfield Green Food Guide, Jeff Cordulack of Audubon Greenwich, Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology, Rep. Tony Hwang, Rep. Fred Camillo, and Tara Cook-Littman JD of Fairfield after the March 2 legislative forum on GMOs at the Capitol.
Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown, and they rely on food labeling to provide that transparency. But one of the fastest growing unnatural ingredients found in 80 percent of processed foods sold in supermarkets– Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) – are not required to be labeled. Although all 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, China and many other countries mandate the labeling of GMOs, in the U.S. we are shopping blind.
mandatory GMO labeling bill and your support is critical to its success.
Most processed foods sold in the U.S., even those labeled “natural” and “all natural”, contain at least one GM ingredient - soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, and sugar - yet they carry no labels declaring “contains GMOs.” The bottle of canola oil innocently sitting in your pantry is likely GM, since eighty percent of the canola grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. “It’s being carefully hidden” explains Bill Duesing, an organic farmer and Executive Director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of CT (CT NOFA). “The U.S. food industry will do anything it can to make this stuff seem the same.”
GMOs are organisms whose genetic characteristics are purposefully changed through genetic manipulation or modification. Through laboratory processes, DNA is extracted from one species of plant, animal, bacteria or virus and forced into another unrelated species of plant or animal to exactly confer a desired trait that would not occur in nature or be possible through traditional crossbreeding methods. In agricultural products the most common GMOs are engineered to tolerate herbicides or produce their own pesticides. Herbicide tolerant corn, soy, cotton, and canola are designed to withstand the application of one or more herbicides. GM cotton and corn varieties carry a gene from the soil bacteria Bt and can produce their own toxins, in every cell of the plant, to kill specific insects. The U.S. is the largest producer of GM foods in the world with 69 million hectares under cultivation and a 43% market share according to a recent biotech industry report. It also grows the widest variety of GM crops in the world including corn, cotton, soy, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya and squash.
Due to growing concerns about the safety of GMOs, and polls consistently showing that over 90 percent of consumers want GM ingredients labeled, lawmakers in 17 states, including Connecticut, have introduced legislation that would mandate, in some form, the labeling of genetically modified foods. In February, Representative Richard Roy (D - Milford), co-chair of the General Assembly’s Environment Committee, introduced HB 5117, An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Foods. Connecticut now has the potential to become the first state to pass a mandatory GMO labeling bill and local efforts are underway throughout the state to build consumer support for it.
On February 22, I testified in support of HB 5117 at the Environment Committee’s public hearing in Harford in front of a standing room only crowd of supporters, opponents, lobbyists and media. As the day unfolded it became obvious that many of those who oppose HB 5117, an act that would mandate labeling of genetically modified foods in our state, feel the FDA is responsible for monitoring the safety of our food supply and that it has conducted thorough and ongoing safety testing of GMOs. “This is the major criticism of this bill, that it is not the responsibility of the CT legislators to make this determination,” said Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology during his speech at the March 2 legislative forum at the Capitol organized by the Environment Committee. “The federal organization that should be responsible for requiring labeling is the FDA and it is mandated officially to promote biotechnology” said Smith.
Twenty years ago the FDA declared that GMOs were not materially different from their conventional counterparts and therefore were generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and required no safety testing. Consequently, no independent scientific testing has been conducted on GMOs to show that they are safe for humans, animals and the environment. “Monsanto’s former attorney, Michael Taylor, was put in charge of policy at the FDA and the policy, when it came out, claimed that the agency was not aware of any information showing the foods created from these new methods, GMOs, differed from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way” said Smith. “It turns out that this claim upon which the policy was written was not true. Not only were the scientists at the FDA aware that GMOs were significantly different, they warned over and over and over again. You can read the actual memos on our website at ResponsibleTechnology.org, which document that these foods might create allergens, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems and that they urged their superiors to require long term study.”
While we’re waiting for the FDA to update its arcane policies, it is essential to label GMOs so consumers can choose whether or not to eat them. Connecticut has the opportunity to lead the nation in passing a mandatory GMO labeling bill and your support is critical to its success. Join the Right to Know CT campaign online today at RightToKnowCT.org and use the “click and send” advocacy platform to ask your Connecticut state legislators to support HB 5117, An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Foods. Let your lawmakers know that you believe we have a fundamental right to know what’s in our food so we can make informed choices about what we feed our families.
Analiese Paik is a sustainable food advocate and founder and editor of the award-winning website FairfieldGreenFoodGuide.com. The website is Fairfield County’s premier destination for local and sustainable food resources, news and events. For more information visit RightToKnowCT.org.
Connecticut has the opportunity to lead the nation in passing a mandatory GMO labeling bill and your support is critical to its success.