Connecticut Passes Nation’s First GMO Labeling Law

Far from going out on its own, CT’s law won’t go into effect until its Northeastern neighbors pass similar bills.

Lawmakers celebrate the passage of Connecticut's GMO labeling law. (Photo: CT Senate Democrats/Flickr)

Jun 4, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

It’s not the muscle-backed GMO labeling law most advocates hoped for, but it is official: Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill that would require food products that contain genetically modified ingredients such as corn, soybean or sugar beet to reflect that on the label.

“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,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a statement.

But fear of expensive lawsuits by the biotech and processed-food industry (a predicament that stalled action on a similar bill in Vermont) means Connecticut’s new law comes with unusual stipulations. Those provisions include the requirement that four other Northeast states pass similar legislation—creating a threshold of 20 million consumers—and that at least one of those states must share a border with Connecticut. That means Rhode Island, Massachusetts or New York must pass GMO labeling legislation for Connecticut’s to take effect.

That hurdle got a little higher last night. While Right-To-Know advocates in the Nutmeg state were celebrating their victory, lawmakers in New York were under intense lobbying pressure by the agri-industry.

According to the New York Daily News, “Lauren Schuster, [Assemblywoman Linda] Rosenthal’s chief of staff said that a lobbyist for the Council for Biotechnology Information, which represents genetically modified food giants Monsanto and DuPont, attended the committee vote.”

Shortly thereafter, the New York bill was defeated in committee.

“We heard there was heavy industry lobbying at the last minute,” Rebecca Spector, West Coast director for the Center of Food Safety, tells TakePart. “When they counted, they had the votes in the committee, and at the last minute, two committee members switched their votes. We’re still waiting to find out which two.”

Spector says that she expects the bill to be reintroduced in New York, and says that Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts have GMO labeling bills that are still active. A vote in Vermont isn’t expected until 2014. Hearings are scheduled for later this month on four bills being considered by Massachusetts lawmakers.

“The New York loss was disappointing,” says Spector. As for Connecticut, “They didn’t want to go it alone. They want the support of other states. We’re disappointed with that clause. The legislators and the governor made it clear that the constituents of Connecticut have the right to have this information. We don’t think it should wait for the other states to pass.”

That wait may not be too long. There is active GMO labeling legislation in approximately two dozen states, as well as newly introduced federal legislation, and a ballot measure that goes before voters in Washington state in November.

“The tide is turning. People want this and legislators know they have to answer to the people,” said Spector.