Connecticut fights GMOs

Yesterday, Connecticut continued its crusade against genetically modified organisms with the passage of a bill banning the sale or planting of grass seed that has been genetically modified.

Genetically modified grass has been found to contaminate farms even miles away. And if genetically modified grasses blow onto the crops of organic farms, farmers can no longer label their product as organic, said Philip Miller, a state representative for District 36 who was involved in the passage of the bill.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOS) are living organisms — such as corn — that have scientifically modified DNA for the purpose of producing a greater yield, developing insect resistance, or promoting more favorable traits in the organism. This is not the Connecticut legislature’s first attempt to moderate GMOs. A year ago, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill mandating that food containing genetically modified organisms be labeled, though supermarket aisles across the state continue to go unlabeled.

According to the bill passed last June, Connecticut cannot label GMOs in food products until at least four other states follow suit, one of which must share a border with Connecticut. This clause was embedded in the bill because Connecticut is not large enough to control food distribution in the Northeast. Since Connecticut’s bill — the first bill regulating GMO labeling in the nation — only Maine has passed legislation. Vermont, Massachusetts and Maryland currently have bills in the works.

“It’s a good start,” Miller said. “If not this year, it will happen pretty soon.”

GMOs have come under attack since they were linked to harmful effects both in the environment and for human health, according to Jerry Silbert, director of anti-pesticide lobbying organization ConnFACT. He explained that genetically modified crops have been shown to collect phosphates, a chemical that degrades soil, and to adversely affect human health.

DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said  the state will have to wait for a “critical mass” of states to pass similar legislation before food producers will change the labeling on their products.

If Connecticut alone were to implement the law, “that would probably result in us starving,” Schain said in jest.

However, Nancy Alderman ’94 FES ’97, president of Environmental and Human Health Inc., said that that if a few more states in New England pass similar bills, she expects GMO labeling to become a common practice throughout the Northeast.

Alderman said that when California tried to pass such a law, the pesticides and GM industries were quick to lobby heavily against it.

“If California did it, it would happen across the country,” Alderman said.

However, many states have been following Connecticut’s lead. Miller, who was one of the key players in getting last year’s bill passed, said he has testified in front of both the New York and Rhode Island legislatures about the merits of labeling GMOs.

According to Martin Dagoberto, campaign coordinator for Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs, five bills were introduced at the beginning of the legislative session, most of which are similar to the bill that passed in Connecticut. Already, 73 members of the legislature have signed an endorsement letter for labeling GMOs.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, but optimistic nonetheless,” Dagoberto said.

Genetically modified foods are either banned or regulated in over 60 other countries.

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