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Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Christine Stuart photo)

Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, joined other advocates Thursday to ask legislators to pass a law that doesn’t require other states to join in before the Connecticut can require labelling on “children’s food” made with genetically modified organisms.

Greenfield already visited Connecticut to talk about the issue in 2013. That was the year Connecticut became the first state in the nation to pass a law that would require GMO labeling of all food.

However, that law contained a trigger provision. The three-part trigger required four states to enact similar legislation, one of those four states would have to share a border with Connecticut, and the combined population of states that enact GMO-labeling laws would need to total 20 million.

Maine and Vermont have also since passed labeling bills, but Massachusetts or New York would also have to pass a labeling bill before Connecticut would require labeling. Vermont is the only state to enact legislation without a trigger.

Greenfield urged Connecticut lawmakers to remove the trigger from its GMO labeling law so that Connecticut residents will have the same right to know what’s in the food they are eating and what’s in the food they are feeding to their children.

Greenfield said that on July 1 Vermont’s labeling law will go into effect and residents in the Green Mountain State will have “the right to know” what’s in the food they are eating.

“I can’t understand why food companies wouldn’t want to tell their customers what is in the food they are selling them,” Greenfield said. “It is just beyond comprehension to me.”

He said making small changes to labels on packaging “does not raise prices at all.” He said anyone who says that is simply not telling the truth.

“Food companies make changes to their labels all the time,” Greenfield said. “It is simply a course of doing business.”

But Gene Harrington, director of state advocacy and government affairs for Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said labeling GMOs will make shopping more confusing for customers. He said half the products that include GMOs under Vermont’s law won’t actually be labeled.

That’s because labeling of food containing meat and poultry is regulated exclusively by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So even if it contains a GMO, it can’t be labeled as such, Harrington said.

“The best way to address this thing is at the federal level,” Harrington said.

Christine Stuart photo
Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington (Christine Stuart photo)

But lawmakers who attended a press conference prior to Thursday’s public hearing disagreed. They said states are the laboratories of democracy.

Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said the market is demanding this type of labeling. She said industry labels sugar, fat, salt, and artificial colors.

“What is the problem with labeling genetically modified organisms so that parents can make an informed decision about what risks they are willing to take with their newborn baby?” Urban said.

She said the market will respond to those choices and economic activity will increase.

Urban said Vermont moved the ball forward when it required labeling without a trigger and she hopes Connecticut will do the same.

If Connecticut’s legislation passes, it would go into effect in October. The bill only addresses “children’s food.” The Children’s Committee has until March 10 to approve the bill.

Urban was optimistic about the bill’s chances. It has bipartisan support and a vocal group of advocates who know how to reach their lawmakers.