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Should GMOs in food products be labeled?

Consumers may not know exactly what genetically modified food is, but chances are they’re eating it.

A local grocer is hoping proposed state legislation will pass so residents can know for certain if they are buying products with GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Lloyd Allen of Weston, owner of the Double L Market in Westport, prides himself on the high-quality fresh fish, beef, free-range chickens, and organic fruits and vegetables he sells. He doesn’t sell processed food or anything from a freezer.

Mr. Allen runs the kind of small town business where he personally knows the gardeners and farmers who supply him with the food they grow.

But over the years, Mr. Allen has become increasingly concerned with the number of children he has observed coming down with food allergies. He thinks GMOs might be partly to blame.

GMOs, which opponents call “Frankenfoods,” are genetically modified organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques. One of the most widely adopted applications of GMO technology is patent-protected food crops that are resistant to commercial herbicides or are able to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant.

Genetically modified foods were first put on the market in 1996 and are featured most prominently in soybean products, corn, canola oil, rice, and cottonseed oil.

Mr. Allen said many of his customers are concerned about GMOs and would like to see products containing them be labeled as part of a consumer’s right to know.

That very issue is currently before Connecticut’s legislators in the form of HB 5117, a bill that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

The bill was approved in a 23-6 vote by the House’s Environment Committee. It is currently in limbo, waiting to be called for a vote by Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan. If the House vote passes, it needs to be approved by the state Senate. If the bill does not go to vote or is not approved by May 9, it dies.

Right to know

Analiese Paik of the Fairfield Green Food Guide and holistic health counselor Tara Cook-Littman, founders of the Right to Know CT campaign (righttoknowct.org), are discussing the GMO issue with residents across the state, hoping to raise awareness about the concerns about GMOs and to put pressure on the legislature to pass the bill.

The pair spoke about GMOs this past Tuesday at the Weston Public Library in a discussion sponsored by the Weston Sustainability Committee.

“Connecticut has the potential to become the first state to pass a mandatory GMO labeling bill. We 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,” said Ms. Cook-Littman, who testified before the Environment Committee.

As a customer of Mr. Allen’s Double L store, Ms. Cook-Littman said she appreciates the high-quality food he stocks. But she says foods laced with GMOs figure prominently in most supermarkets and remain unlabeled. “Genetically engineered foods are in 80% of packaged foods,” she said.

One reason the bill might be stalling right now, Ms. Cook-Littman said, is because there is heavy pressure and lobbying being applied by companies like Monsanto, a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation and a large producer of genetically engineered seed.

Monsanto is against GMO labeling, and on its website says: “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees food labeling in the United States. The FDA has found there is no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that as a class, foods developed by biotechnology present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

Monsanto claims biotechnology increases crop yields by protecting plants that would otherwise be lost to insects or weeds, and allows the creation of plants with traits that would be difficult or impossible to achieve through breeding.

Ms. Cook-Littman and Mr. Allen said the United States is way behind in GMO awareness and that genetically modified foods are labeled in 50 other countries.

“When pink slime in red meat was exposed, people were happy to see it go. But that only affected people who ate red meat. GMOs are affecting everybody. We’re all eating it,” Mr. Allen said.

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