Does your mouth water at the thought of corn that’s engineered to produce a poison that kills insects? If not, Connecticut might be the place for you.
The state’s Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically engineered ingredients such as GM corn. The bill sailed through on a 35-1 vote, and now moves to the state House.
Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey [D] wants to support legislation that would require the labeling of products that contain genetically modified organisms.
But he’s not sure whether the House will approve the version approved in the state Senate late Tuesday night that would depend on three nearby states to approve similar legislation by July of 2015.
Sharkey, in an interview near the House podium around the time the Senate was approving the bill, said his majority caucus met behind closed doors earlier in the day to discuss the controversial measure.
“The caucus confirmed my own sense that obviously we want to do something,” Sharkey said. “My concern all along has been the question of whether Connecticut should put itself out on its own, requiring this labeling and whether that puts us at an economic disadvantage being the first and only state to do this.”
Unlike 64 other countries, the U.S. lacks any labeling laws for GMO food (though Americans who want to avoid it could do so by buying certified organics). Some countries outright ban GMOs — officials in Hungary just burned 1,000 acres of Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn after new crop-testing regulations led to its discovery.
So lawmakers in Connecticut, Vermont, and elsewhere are trying to take matters into their own hands, pushing forward with state-level labeling legislation. Bills in both of those New England states are cautious, setting long timeframes for the start of a ban and including caveats based on whether other states adopt similar laws. That caution is a response to fears of lawsuits from the powerful food and ag industry, which opposes GMO labeling.
“I’m concerned about our state going out on its own on this and the potential economic disadvantage that could cause,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said. “I would like to see us be part of a compact with some other states, which would hopefully include one of the bigger states such as New York.” …
Even if the bill passes the House and is signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy [D], it would not take effect until at least three other states pass similar legislation. GMO labeling legislation is pending in more than a dozen states.
The Center for Food Safety reports that legislation in Maine is also moving forward:
In addition to the Connecticut victory, [on Tuesday] Maine’s GE food labeling bill passed through the state’s Agriculture Committee — a major hurdle — which voted 8-5 in favor of their labeling bill. The bill passed the state Assembly earlier this month.
“Both of these victorious votes show the power of the voice of consumers, who through their vocal and powerful demand for GE food labeling, are finally getting their state lawmakers to listen and take action,” said Rebecca Spector, west coast director of Center for Food Safety.
All of this action has some Monsanto backers nervous. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) recently inserted an amendment into the Farm Bill that the Organic Consumers Association says could forbid states from requiring labels on GMO foods. King’s office disagreed, telling Grist that the amendment [PDF] (which would prevent one state from denying the trade of another state’s agriculture product “based on that product’s means of production”) doesn’t mention labeling.
The story was updated on May 27 to include comments from Rep. Steve King’s office.