GMOs are introduced into the genetic code of certain crops to promote particular characteristics, such as a resistance to certain pesticides.
The bill was prompted by a national debate regarding the potential health effects of ingesting GMOs, according to state Rep. John Shaban (R-135).
Mr. Shaban, who represents Weston, Easton and part of Redding, was a member of the GMO Task Force last year, and, as ranking member of the environment committee, was the lead Republican on the negotiation to create a bill that was acceptable to both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office.
“The bill makes Connecticut the leader on this effort, and should create the spark needed to effect a regional or national labeling model driven by both government and market participants,” Mr. Shaban said in a press release.
Advocates and lawmakers hailed the legislation as a triumph for citizens concerned about their health and what they’re eating.
Deidre Doran, chairman of Weston’s Sustainabilty Committee, and Ellen McCormick, chairman of the Friends of Lachat group working to create a community farm in town, supported efforts to label GMOs. “This agreement will provide momentum for activists throughout the country as they fight to know what is in the food they feed their families,” the pair said in a written statement.
Fairfield resident Tara Cook-Littman, founder of GMO Free CT, advocated for the labeling laws and said she was grateful the House, Senate and Gov. Dannel Malloy reached an agreement. The law “is historic and Connecticut will now set the standard for states around the country to follow,” she said.
However, there are are several caveats that must happen before GMO labeling becomes a requirement in the Nutmeg State. Four other northeastern states need to pass similar labeling laws, and one of those states needs to border Connecticut. The combined population of these states needs to be at least 20 million. Labeling would become law on Oct. 1 of the year that four states also enact similar laws.
Mr. Malloy said the 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.”
State Sen. John McKinney, who represents Easton, Fairfield, Newtown and part of Weston, noted that the new law doesn’t ban, or restrict, or tax anything. “It simply lets moms and dads know what’s in the food they’re buying for their children… I’m pleased Connecticut is a pioneer in passing this common sense legislation. I urge Washington [to] follow our lead,” he said.
The law excludes alcohol from being labeled, along with food bought at a farmers’ market and unpacked foods intended for immediate consumption. It also prevents GMO foods from being labeled as “natural.”
In her testimony at the public hearing for the bill, Ms. Cook-Littman said one of the reasons she supports labeling is because GMO products are in a majority of processed foods and appear under a variety of labels, such as lecithin, xanthum gum, maltodextrin and others.
The majority of GMO crops in the United States are corn, canola, soybeans and cotton, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2012, 94% of cotton, 93% of soybeans and 88% of corn planted in the U.S. were genetically modified.
The U.S. is also the largest exporter of GMO crops in the world, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Other genetically modified crops approved for human consumption in the U.S. include potato, tomato, wheat, squash, plum, sugar beet, radicchio, papaya, flax, creeping bent grass, alfalfa and cantaloupe.
The new law does not specify if these specific items, if purchased in the produce section, would need to be labeled as genetically modified. The law would exempt most foods that are unpackaged and ready to eat from being labeled, and applies mostly to packaged and/or processed foods.
The FDA does not require biotech companies that make GMO foods, such as agribusiness giant Monsanto, to register with the FDA, but instead recommends developers consult with the agency during development of genetic strains.
Most plants are engineered to resist insects and diseases, delay ripening, reduce water needs and increase yields. However, 43% of the GMO crops listed by the FDA are designed solely to tolerate pesticides. In many cases, the crops are engineered to tolerate glyphosate, which Monsanto markets under the trade name Roundup. The company produces the seeds that are “Roundup ready” and also produces Roundup.
A spokesperson for Monsanto declined to comment for this story.
While many studies show GMO products have no adverse health or environmental effects, emerging evidence shows that DNA from generically altered foods could actually invade the DNA of the person consuming it.
In 2004, Dr. John Heritage, a microbiologist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology that microbes found in the human digestive tract are capable of acquiring and harboring DNA sequences from genetically modified plants.
“This finding raises important questions for those charged with risk assessment of transgenic plants destined for food use,” Dr. Heritage wrote.
In 2011, a Chinese study published in the journal Cell Research showed that micro ribonucleic acid, or miRNA, from GMO rice was found in the blood and organs of people who ate the rice.
In some cases, GMO foods have been shown to have health benefits. Some modified corn has low levels of fumonisin, a toxin made by fungi found on certain insects that has been linked to cancer in animals. Natural corn has higher levels of the carcinogen as it is more prone to insect damage, according to reports.
Patricia Gay of The Weston Forum contributed to this story.