Connecticut Moves Closer to GMO Labeling Law

A bill passed the CT State Senate, but a federal provision failed during farm bill debates.

GMO labeling advocates in Connecticut. (Photo: CT Senate Democrats/Flickr)

May 23, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Those of you on the GMO labeling rollercoaster may have a little good-news/bad-news whiplash this week.

The good news is best symbolized by the resounding cheer that reverberated through social media when Connecticut’s State Senate voted 35-1 in favor of a GMO labeling requirement.

“We’re not banning anything, we’re not restricting anything, we’re not taxing anything,” said Senate Republican leader John McKinney prior to the vote, according to the Hartford Courant. “We’re just saying let moms and dads know what’s in the food they’re buying for their young kids. That’s not a lot to ask.”

Despite the support, the Connecticut bill still has to pass the hurdle of the House vote, and, like another state on the verge of adopting a labeling requirement, Vermont, some are worried about being the first to pass a GMO labeling law—potentially setting them up for an expensive legal battle with ag giant Monsanto.

“I’m concerned about our state going out on its own on this and the potential economic disadvantage that could cause,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey told the Courant. “I would like to see us be part of a compact with some other states, which would hopefully include one of the bigger states such as New York.”

The good news for labeling advocates is that states like Connecticut and Vermont (as well as more than two dozen other states currently considering GMO labeling legislation) are inching forward on the issue, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who recently introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.

But the week’s bad (but by no means unexpected) news came this morning when the U.S. Senate rejected (71 to 27 vote) Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) amendment to the Farm Bill that would protect the authority of states to require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients “should they choose to pass legislation.”

“The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what’s in the food that they eat,” said Sanders.

Indeed, the right to know if food products contain genetically modified ingredients is a heated topic that’s continued to grab headlines since California’s controversial Prop. 37 ballot initiative was introduced, but rejected by voters last November. Even former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan agreed the GMO labeling issue isn’t going away any time soon.

“People want to know,” she told the CropLife America 2013 National Food Policy Conference. “I’m not saying it’s a right to know or a need to know, but it’s not going to go away.”