Jerry Greenfield, the “Jerry” in Ben & Jerry’s, hosted an ice cream social at the State Capitol on Friday, but he wasn’t just there to promote his product. Greenfield was here to support a bill that requires foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled as such.
GMOs are crops that have been engineered to stay alive after being sprayed with herbicide. The bill states that any food intended for sale that has been entirely or partially genetically engineered, with the exception of processed foods, should be labeled “Produced with Genetic Engineering.”
“Consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they’re eating,” Greenfield told the Public Health Committee. “This is not about whether you can use GMOs or not. It’s about telling people honestly, openly, and transparently what’s in food so they can decide.”
More than 60 countries have legislation requiring the labeling of GMOs, but the U.S. is not one of them. If passed, Connecticut’s law would be the first in the country.
But the bill faces opposition.
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture is against the bill, as they fear Connecticut’s farmers would be placed at a competitive disadvantage if it passes. In their testimony before the Public Health Committee the department said, “A national policy is necessary to keep the playing field level for Connecticut farm families.”
Greenfield also supports a national framework of labeling requirements, but he does not see it happening yet. “Having states take the lead will definitely lead to that,” he said.
“We encourage legislators in Connecticut, and Vermont and Washington State and almost 30 other states to move forward with a harmonized approach of state-level, mandatory GMO labeling,” Greenfield said..
Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s home state, passed a similar bill out of its Agriculture committee in early March, but not without a threat from agricultural engineering giant Monsanto. The company threatened to sue the state if the bill passed.
Seventy percent of American foods contain GMOs, according to a Forbes.com article.
“It is alarming to me that our federal government has allowed these new and poorly understood products to be marketed to the American consumer without proper long-term research of their impact on people or the potential genetic mutations to our wildlife,” Rep Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, said.
More than 60 people who turned out for Friday’s hearing agreed.
But opponents like the American Seed Trade Association cited a 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics report that found no difference between between organic foods and those that are conventionally produced.
“Foods derived from plants and crops improved through the use of biotechnology are just as safe as foods developed from non-genetically engineered crops at any level for any human or animal. There is no data, studies, or experience to suggest a potential harm to consumers,” the report said.
Their statement also suggests that the bill may potentially be unconstitutional by infringing on First Amendment rights and alludes to the decision in International Dairy Foods Association v. Amestoy in 1996. The ruling concluded that food manufacturers were not required to label dairy products that had been made from rbST, which is a genetically engineered product.
“While I would like to go much further on this issue of GMOs, I am only asking my colleagues to consider the bill that is before you, which simply allows Connecticut residents to make informed choices as to what they personally consume and as to what they feed their families,” said Vargas.
Voters in California rejected a similar food-labeling measure just four months ago.
Opponents argue that labeling food would cost the state money and increase family food bills, while a fiscal note prepared for similar legislation in Washington state says the measure would cost around $1.5 million during the first two years.