House opposes GMO bill

Just one day after a bill banning genetically modified grass seeds cleared the Connecticut State Senate, the same bill died in the House.

The bill, which was voted down 103-37, was opposed by the Republican caucus and a significant portion of the Democrats. For the first time in this legislative session, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, a Democrat, brought a bill up to vote only to have it voted down by both himself and other Democrats.

“In a short session that is supposed to focus on jobs and the economy, I’m concerned about enacting legislation this year that looks to preemptively ban a product that doesn’t yet exist without allowing the public, and experts, to weigh in,” Sharkey said in a statement.

The bill would have banned the manufacture and sale of genetically modified grass seed in Connecticut, though it is not currently used or sold in the state. In fact, Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, the corporation that is developing the seed, has not even begun to market it yet.

Still, public concern has already arisen over allowing the seeds to enter Connecticut, mirroring a national trend of distrust of genetically modified crops.

“Part of the problem with genetically modified Kentucky bluegrass is you start to develop weeds that are resistant to that herbicide because that just naturally happens,” said Jerry Silbert, director of ConnFACT, an anti-pesticide lobbying group in the state. “Now you get weeds that you can’t kill, or you need much higher concentrations of glyphosate. So it’s a nice deal for the chemical companies, but it’s not a great deal for the consumer.”

Silbert speculated that part of the reason the bill moved so quickly through the House was that House leaders did not want to give groups such as GMO Free CT time to mobilize like they did in support of last year’s bill on GMO labeling.

But according to Sharkey’s press secretary, Larry Perosino, Sharkey believes the time expended on research and hearings for the bill would detract from more important issues. Perosino also cited inadequate information as a reason that many representatives may have been reluctant to vote yes.

“It’s such a complicated science that I don’t think that anyone is really adequately educated on it, particularly when we’re talking about a product that has never even come to be marketed anywhere,” Perosino said.

In recent years, agricultural companies have increasingly pushed to create and market GMOs, but public distrust has stunted their sales. While some scientists say that the technology is safe, others claim GMOs they pose significant health and environmental risks.

For activists like Bonnie Wright, director of New Hampshire Right to Know GMO, a “better safe than sorry” approach to legislating seems the most prudent.

“GMOs have not been tested on humans for long term health studies, so … we don’t know how safe they can be,” she said.

While no humans will be eating the grass that the genetically modified seeds will grow, the grass poses a potential problem to organic farmers. If grass seed that is genetically modified blows into their farms, and their livestock eat it, they will no longer be able to classify that livestock as organic.

In a statement after the House vote, Senate President Don Williams, who had championed the bill’s initial passage in the Senate, expressed pride that the bill had come as far as it had. He said the Senate vote represented a stand against chemical companies that had special interests in marketing genetically modified grass seed and pesticides.

The bill passed in the Senate 25-11.

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