Hugh McQuaid Photo
House Speaker Sharkey talking with Republicans before GMO bill (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Following hours of behind the scenes negotiations, the House voted early Friday morning to approve a watered down version of legislation concerning the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

The bill passed on a 114-7 vote with 29 lawmakers either abstaining or not voting. On a voice vote, House lawmakers adopted significant changes to the legislation which the Senate passed earlier this week.

The Senate legislation would have required that all genetically engineered foods be labeled as such by July 1, 2015, assuming that at least three nearby states pass similar legislation. If other states in the region failed to adopt labeling statutes, Connecticut’s requirement would go into effect on its own in 2016 through what lawmakers described as a “stand-alone” provision.

In a strike-all amendment, the House scrapped the bill’s “stand-alone” provision and increased the number of states needed to trigger Connecticut’s labeling requirement to five. In order to apply, at least two of those states would need to be near Connecticut and the combined population total of states participating would have to equal at least 25 million people.

The changes come as a result of negotiations between House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, the governor’s office, and House Republicans, all of whom have voiced concerns about placing Connecticut businesses at an unfair disadvantage by making it possible for it to be the only state in 2016 to require labeling.

However, the modifications to the bill were not popular with advocates like the Fairfield-based group GMO Free CT, which emailed lawmakers early Friday morning, urging them to oppose the House version of the bill.

“Dear Legislators, the advocates of the GMO Labeling bill do not support Speaker Sharkey’s amendments. Please do not support the bill with amendments,” the email said.

But House lawmakers, who had debated a bill until 5:45 a.m. the previous morning, did not seem willing to engage in a lengthy debate about the modified legislation by the time it came to the floor after 1 a.m. Friday.

Rep. Phil Miller, D-Essex, said the amended bill was the result of much discussion and compromise.

“Each of the proponents and everyone involved had to, perhaps, give some ground a bit to have a bill that we could pass and that will hopefully put us on the road to becoming among the first states in the nation to have this labeling law,” he said. “So our consumers will know what they’re buying with better clarity.”

Rep. John Shaban, the Environment Committee’s ranking Republican, said the changes helped ease some of his concerns about the bill.

“It does put us out in the forefront of this effort. We’re going to pull other states with us. It will be a truly regional response,” he said.

Following the bill’s passage, Sharkey issued a short statement saying he was pleased the bill could be the first of its kind in the nation.

“It was done on a bipartisan basis in concert with the governor and I’m hopeful it serves as a model for other states to join us,” he said. 

The bill will now need to return to the Senate.