Following attempts by both chambers to pass their own versions of legislation regarding the labeling of genetically modified foods, the Senate voted unanimously Saturday to approve a compromise bill supported by House leadership and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Advocates have pushed throughout the session to see Connecticut enact first-in-the-nation legislation requiring the labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients. But they rebuffed a bill passed last week by the House, which scaled back considerably legislation approved earlier by the Senate.
The agreement passed Saturday by the Senate was endorsed by Tara Littman-Cook of GMO [genetically modified organism] Free Connecticut, a group which lobbied against the version of the bill passed by the House. In a press release from Senate Democrats, she called Saturday’s compromised legislation “historic.”
“Today’s GMO labeling agreement is historic and Connecticut will now set the standard for states around the country to follow,” Littman-Cook said.
The legislation does not require companies to label foods containing GMOs outright, rather it requires that four other states pass similar legislation in order to “trigger” Connecticut’s labeling requirement. One of the states must share a border with Connecticut and their combined population must equal at least 20 million people.
The trigger provisions are a compromise between the original Senate bill and the version passed by House, which would have required more states and a higher population total as a trigger. Unlike the Senate’s first attempt, the bill approved Saturday does not include a “stand-alone” clause, which would have triggered Connecticut’s requirement in a few years even if no other state had acted.
With the legislative session ending on Wednesday, the changes the House made to the bill last week could have easily been the end of the concept this year.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said leaders in both chambers were unwilling to drop the issue because of differences between the House and Senate. He said he and Senate President Donald Williams talked about it after the House changed the bill.
“We recognized that we both had a commitment not to let it die. I think we could have successfully said to the advocates ‘the state Senate did the best we could, we passed a tough law but we couldn’t get agreement.’ But that kind of victory wasn’t what we were looking for,” McKinney said. “We wanted to pass a law and start a fire across this country.”
Williams said there is strong public support for requiring the labels. He said advocates helped the bill’s success by lobbying at the Capitol in greater numbers this year than in previous sessions.
“People want to know what they’re eating. Parents want to know what they’re feeding their children. They want to know what the health issues [are] and be able to ask questions,” Williams said.
The bill will still need to be approved in the House. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he supported the compromise. He said he felt it was important that the bill did not allow Connecticut’s requirement to go into effect without other states passing similar laws. If it did, Sharkey said it would have driven up the price of food in the state.
“That would affect everyone here in the state, particularly those who could least afford it,” he said.
Although advocates unhappy with the House’s version of the GMO bill have been critical of Sharkey, he stood by the legislation he passed before the compromise.
“If they stepped back, the notion that we would be the first state in the entire country to adopt a GMO labeling bill was an achievement, I’m not sure [the advocates] fully appreciated,” he said. “That was a monumental achievement, which was the most difficult to cross.”
In a statement, Malloy praised the compromise bill while echoing some of Sharkey’s concerns.
“This bill strikes an important balance by ensuring the consumers’ right to know what is in their food while shielding our small businesses from liability that could leave them at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.