Connecticut is the home state of my wife, six grown children, five of our ten grandchildren, and my former clinical practice. Plus, this month that same home state has been front and center in the headlines for "unanimously" passing a GMO Labeling bill by a vote of 35-1. But while that sounds like a victory, the fight is far from over.
So, what is the GMO Labeling Bill? It is legislation that would require foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) be clearly labeled “produced with genetic engineering.” But some foods, such as those served in restaurants or farmer’s markets, would be exempt from this labeling requirement.
Unfortunately, though, there’s a huge fly in the ointment…
It's reported that 90% of people in Connecticut are in favor of labeling GMO foods. But while the Connecticut State Senate approved the standalone version of the bill on June 3 to change current labeling laws, an entirely different version went before the General Assembly. That bill, which passed with a 134-3 majority, requires that three bordering Northeastern states pass similar legislation. Plus, those additional states must represent a total combined population of 20 million people, and one of them must border Connecticut.
Governor Daniel P. Malloy will reportedly sign the bill into law and has publically stated: “We have vigorously pursued all opportunities to improve nutrition across Connecticut... This bill strikes an important balance by ensuring the consumers’ right to know what is in their food while shielding our small businesses from liability that could leave them at a competitive disadvantage. I look forward to working with advocates and stakeholders on this important issue, and thank legislative leaders for their work in crafting this legislation.”
While Vermont, Maine, and New York are just a few of the many states that have been considering a GMO labeling law, there are only three bordering states that can come to the rescue: New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. New York has a population of over 19 million people, and could really put some traction behind this bill if they ratified one of their own. As for Vermont—home to many of Monsanto’s GMO farms—while it has considered this type of law in the past, lawmakers have also recognized that the first state to endorse such a bill will be looking at a major costly legal battle.
But while other states debate, this past week Maine supported Connecticut with a "unanimous" vote in the House of Representatives (141 to 4) to require GMO labeling. The Senate followed suit with a "similar bill," so LD 718 is its way to their Governor's office. Maine will look to New Hampshire, its only bordering state, for back-up.
So, is Connecticut’s GMO bill a victory, or a defeat? Well, I guess it’s like looking at that proverbial glass of water—is it half full, or half empty? I always make a conscious choice to see my glass as half full in life, and this case is no exception. While GMO labeling may still be far from being signed into law, this initiative undertaken by our own citizens, and those in Maine, represents the American way of getting things done.
It took a group of citizen’s in the Boston Harbor tossing tea overboard to spark momentum to gain freedom from a foreign ruler. And after watching the movie “42” this week, I am reminded how long it took Jackie Robinson to struggle to change the face of American baseball. Now, Connecticut and Maine have also waved their banners in front of important issues: the consumer’s right to full disclosure, and freedom from personal interest groups with deep pockets and expensive lobbyists.
Plus, there's another issue at play here, how the GMO labeling law would impact farmers. From what I have read, it was farmers groups, as well as concerned parents and organic food advocates, that led this initiative. Our FDA insists that GMO's are safe. Many of us would argue that. Clear labeling allows each of us to make our own informed choices while the debate continues.
When it comes to protecting New England’s local growers, and farmers in all states, we can all help. I’ve endorsed supporting local agriculture with my blogs on heart-healthy “farm stand dinners
” that feature healthy, fresh produce—vegetables, fruits, and herbs—you can source from your own local farms. In fact, my local farm friends are always happy to tell me how their own crops were raised so I can make informed decisions. That’s a right we all deserve, even at our local supermarkets.
If you support mandatory GMO food labeling, make your opinion known to your state lawmakers. Many of them, including the governors who put the final signatures on those bills, are now easy to find online.
It will take a lot more public pressure to keep the ball rolling. But at least this bill is raising public awareness that GMO ingredients are not something we should just accept as a new agricultural necessity that have no downsides or potential health consequences.
Now it’s your turn: Are you concerned about the hidden GMO in the foods you are buying?
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