By Gregory B. Hladky
3:53 PM EST, December 12, 2012
Brace yourself: a renewed campaign to require the labeling of genetically modified foods sold in Connecticut kicked off Wednesday with a rally, a legislative hearing, and predictions of a fierce lobbying war in 2013.
About 50 activists gathered outside the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to demand passage of a law that would force all food products sold in this state to include information on whether they contain genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
Similar legislation made it only as far as the floor of the state House during the 2012 General Assembly session. It died there because of the virtual certainty that passage would result in a long and costly court battle with Monsanto, the world’s biggest producer of GMO seeds.
“We’re up against some very well-entrenched interests,” state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, warned the demonstrators. Steinberg called the GMO food debate “perhaps the most significant public health issue of our generation.”
The co-chairman of a legislative task force on GMOs, state Rep. Phil Miller, D-Essex, insisted Connecticut needs to follow the lead of the 61 nations around the globe that have laws to force genetically modified foods to be labeled. The panel conducted a hearing on federal GMO policies shortly after the rally ended.
“I think Monsanto is anti-American,” said state Rep. Dick Roy, a Milford Democrat who is retiring from the legislature. “We have a right to know what’s in our food!”
Monsanto spent millions this year to help defeat a GMO labeling proposition that was on the California ballot. The agro-industrial giant’s scientists (and federal officials) argue that genetically modified foods are essentially no different from naturally grown crops, and that requiring GMO labels would just confuse consumers.
GMO crops were created to be more resistant to herbicides, pesticides and droughts, which means higher yields per acre. They claim GMO crops may be the answer to feeding the world’s hungry.
Critics question whether GMO foods are responsible for or related to problems like increased agricultural pollution, damage to the environment, and growing human health problems like asthma and food allergies. They also wonder why Monsanto is so fiercely resistant to allowing outside scientists to conduct tests on their patented seeds and crops.
The California defeat hasn’t deterred activists in states like Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts from continuing their push for state labeling laws.
Roy, a key supporter of the 2012 GMO legislation, says government leaders prevented action on that bill last spring because they were preoccupied with Connecticut’s severe fiscal problems.
According to Roy, top state officials “panicked and were worried about a lawsuit” by Monsanto that could force the state to spend millions of dollars to defend. “They worried about the cost,” he said.
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