Christine Stuart File Photo
As state lawmakers have debated the merits of requiring labels on foods with genetically engineered ingredients this week, U.S. Richard Blumenthal has been involved with a similar debate on the federal level.

Early Friday morning, the state House of Representatives passed an amended bill which could require that foods produced with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, be labeled in Connecticut. But the legislation would only kick in if five other states passed similar statutes.

Advocates of GMO labeling were disappointed in the House legislation. They favored a bill approved by the Senate, which only required three other states to pass similar laws. That bill also contained a clause that would have seen Connecticut’s law go into effect in 2016, independent of the actions of other states.

On the federal level, there’s some debate whether states should be permitted to mandate that foods containing GMOs be labeled. Blumenthal was a co-sponsor of a proposed amendment to a farm bill, which would “permit States to require that any food, beverage, or other edible product offered for sale have a label indicating that the food, beverage, or other edible product contains a genetically engineered ingredient.”

The amendment was rejected by the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan basis Thursday morning in a 71-27 vote.

Despite the amendment’s failure, Blumenthal, Connecticut’s former attorney general, said Friday he believes states like Connecticut can legally require companies to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients. He said the legislation simply would have “reaffirmed” that right.

“Regardless of how it does it, my view as a constitutional lawyer is that [Connecticut] has the authority to do it,” he said.

Blumenthal also is co-sponsor of another bill, which would see the federal Food and Drug Administration require labels on a national level. He said there is support in Congress for the concept, but he called it “a somewhat heavy lift.”

He said the best way to bolster support for national GMO labeling requirements would be for enough individual states to pass their own requirements that the industry itself seeks a national standard.

Blumenthal said he had not read and could not comment on the legislation passed by the state House on Friday. But he indicated that he would like to see states mandate their own individual labels rather than pass requirements dependent upon the actions of other states.

“My preference is for the requirements to be independent of other states,” he said.