Mr. Smith Goes to Hartford

By Analiese Paik

On Friday, March 2, 2012, the Environment Committee held a news conference, followed by a legislative forum on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) sponsored by State Representative Richard Roy, co-chair of the Environment Committee. Following the news conference supporting HB 5117, An Act Requiring the Labeling of Genetically-Engineered Foods, national expert on the subject, Jeffrey Smith, led the legislative forum about GMOs.  A question and answer session followed with the press. Afterwards state representatives and senators shared their positive views on the bill.

These photos, quotes and video footage from a “historic day” that I was so excited to have been able to attend, will give you great appreciation for the work that has been done by all to bring the bill to where it is now, with strong bipartisan support. That doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to pass even in the Environment Committee, where it is currently under discussion. Right to Know CT has just been formed to help provide anyone interested in supporting this bill with strong advocacy tools.

Rep. Richard Roy, co-Chair of the Environment Committee

Rep. Richard Roy, co-Chair of the Environment Committee

“It’s kind of a historic day for us. Really, we’ve moved forward on the GMO bill. I think we’re going to continue. We’ve got plenty of support. It’s bipartisan support. I’m delighted to see Republican and Democratic representatives and senators with us, all of whom believe as we do that people have a right to know what they’re putting in their bodies.”

View the event video:http://ct-n.com/ondemand.asp?ID=7530

Jeffrey Smith, founder of The Institute for Responsible Technology

Jeffrey Smith from the Institute for Responsible Technology

Excerpts from Jeffrey’s talk:

“Thank you Rep. Roy and the other representatives and senators who are forwarding the opportunity for Connecticut citizens to enjoy what the citizens of more than 50 countries enjoy today, what 9 out of 10 Americans have sought for more than a decade. Very simply the right to know if they are eating genetically engineered foods and the right to choose whether they want to be part of this experiment of eating GMOs or Non-GMOs.”

“In it’s basic format, this bill is very simple. Do we give people the information that they can use to decide what they’re going to put in their mouths and the mouths of their children? That’s it.”

“You can be against GMOs, in favor of GMOs, or mixed and still desire that people are given a choice to make their own decisions. In America, that is one thing that we should be standing for.”

“The basic issue is right to know. But there’s some sub-issues. This GMO issue is not really a single story issue. When you look more deeply you realize there is some very powerful information and stories that hasn’t been shared with the public and the public needs to know.”

“This is the major criticism of this bill. That it is not the responsibility of the CT legislators to make this determination. Someone else is taking care of us and we’re sure they’re doing a good job. This is the main argument. The federal organization that should be responsible for requiring labeling is the FDA and they are mandated officially to promote biotechnology. It started in the early 90’s. They got that word from the first Bush administration and so they created a new position for Monsanto’s former attorney, Michael Taylor, to be in charge of policy at the FDA. And the policy when it came out claimed that the agency was not aware of any information showing the foods created from these new methods, GMOs, differed from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way. Based on that quote the policy says companies like Monsanto, who told us that PCBs, Agent Orange and DDT were safe, can determine on their own whether their GMOs are safe without even telling the FDA or consumers. Michael Taylor then became Monsanto’s  Vice President and lobbyist. He’s now the US Food Safety Czar.”

“It turns out that the sentence upon which the policy was written was not true. A friend of mine organized a law suit against the FDA which forced 44,000 secret internal memos into the public domain. And it turns out that not only were the scientists at the FDA aware that GMOs were significantly different, they warned over and over and over again, and you can read the actual memos on our website at responsibletechnology.org, they warned that these foods might create allergens, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems and urged their superiors to require long term study. But I remind you the policy claimed “we’re not aware of any information showing tha t the foods are different.” The memos showed specific complaints about that sentence, pleading with the superiors not to use that as an excuse to abdicate regulation.”

“Is it true that GMOs are unsafe? This bill does not require that we make the determination that GMOs are safe or unsafe.”

“It does not matter whether you believe it is safe. It does not matter whether you believe that the FDA is looking out for us. This is just a bill to give people a choice that’s enjoyed by the people of more than 50 countries and desired by 90 percent of Americans. Do we want to deny the choice for people to determine what they want to feed themselves and their children? I don’t. And I hope the people of Connecticut and their representatives don’t.”

“I hope that Connecticut is the leader of the 19 states that are entertaining similar legislation. I hope Connecticut takes the leading role and establishes that precedent for Americans from now on. Thank you very much.”

Rep. Larry Butler, Waterbury/Bucks Hill, Crownbrook, WOW, Long Hill, Newpac, Waterhill

Rep. Larry Butler

“I’m here to support Rep. Roy because this is something that I have a great concern with.”

I’m going to be fighting with you to get everyone on board.”

Rep. Tony Hwang, Fairfield and Trumbull

Rep. Tony Hwang

“For me, with all due respect, it’s simply a right to know.”

“If I wanted to know as a parent, if I wanted to know for myself that I have an opportunity to decide.”

“We wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be at this point, without the community activists that we have. From coming up to testify, from sharing their inside knowledge, for Jeffrey to be able to travel throughout the entire world sharing the message.”

“The bottom line is that we have a right to know. It’s a small step to ensuring that we can take care of ourselves and our bodies the way we want to.”

Rep. T.R. Rowe, Trumbull, co-sponsor of the bill

Rep. T.R. Rowe

“It’s amazing to have Jeff here. I was talking with Senator McKinney and when the question was asked of Rep. Roy “where is the Governor was on this?”, and the answer was we don’t know. Senator said “Just give him 10 minutes with Jeff and he’ll be with us” so if you can get that 10 minutes, I’d grab it.”

“People have the right to know what’s in their food food. This simple but essential right is a primary reason why I’m supporting this legislation.”

“As has been stated, there are many, many questions about the safety of GMOs. Ones that are far from being answered by the studies that have been commissioned by and paid for by the food industry itself. I know consumers would be quite surprised to say they least if they were aware of just how much of the food they place on their family’s table is genetically altered.”

“GM foods are regulated in the same manner as non-GMOs by the FDA. That’s absurd.”

“We on the state level should take action. Given who is running the FDA, we don’t expect them to set in any time soon unfortunately.”

“The state does have an absolute responsibility to ensure that when our residents put food our their table, they know what’s in it. This bill helps achieve that result.”

Rep. Philip Miller, Chester, Deep River, Essex, Haddam, Vice-Chair of the Environment Committee

Rep. Philip Miller

“Yesterday afternoon I met with a group of about 4 dozen teachers and we got around to speaking on this bill. We were of course acknowledging some basic facts that GMOs are not natural. They are not found in nature in the combinations and concentrations that we see and they are certainly not made by God.”

“When we heard last week in public hearing some of the representatives from industry it was clear that felt put out when we’re just asking them to cop to what they’re creating and adding to our food, just to cop to it, to acknowledge and admit what they’re doing. You’d think in a perfect world, especially if they are going to toot the fact that they think it may help with fighting hunger that they would brag about these things, and yet they don’t because they’re afraid to admit it. They suggested to us that the consumer right to know was not equal to our efforts to force them to label. And I would have to agree with them because I think the consumer right to know is way up here (hand raised above head) above any of our efforts to try to uphold that.”

Rep. Diana Urban, Chair of the Select Committee on Children

Rep. Diana Urban

“The consumer is sovereign if they have the information. So this bill is giving the consumer the information to make a choice and that will allow the market to be more allocatively and productively efficient.”

“The statistics out there tell us consumers want information and they do not want what is called in Europe, Frankenfoods, on their table for themselves, for their children, for their grandchildren. So I am a huge supporter of this bill and I’m really hoping we can push it forward.”

Rep. Fred Camillo, Greenwich

Rep. Fred Camillo

“I had the pleasure last night of listening to Jeffrey Smith with the Fairfield group at his presentation. I’m lucky my brother Gary has been involved with it and has been really educating me along this process.

“That’s all we’re asking here- is to be able to read a label to know what we’re eating.”

“It’s about health. After all, if you don’t have your health, what good is a fiscal note?”

“I think everybody here, on both sides of the aisle, is committed to fighting for this and to seeing it come to fruition.”

State Senator John McKinney, Senate Minority Leader

Senator John McKinney

“I did say to TR [Rowe] that when Dick was asked about the Governor’s position and others, I joked, “Why don’t we just give everybody 10 minutes with Jeffrey?” Because it was 10 minutes last night that really changed my perspective on the foods we eat. And the simple fact that Kraft and other companies make foods for sale in Europe that don’t have GMOs, but they make food for sale in this country that does. And I think you have to ask the question why.”

“There are ways to deal with the realities of the market and the manufacturing of products that can be consistent with public information that we’re trying to do here.”

“We are also doing something just by proposing the bill and by talking about it, and that is educating people throughout the state of Connecticut and educating legislators.”

“We’re now seeing companies actually label their products as Non-GMO food products because that’s a positive marketing aspect for those companies. So the market can and does work well and we can help that by educating the public.”

Resources:

Right to Know CT – advocacy, events, and other ways to support the bill

Institute for Responsible Technology – vast resources about GMOs including an iphone application and Non-GMO shopping guide.

Organic Consumers Association – advocacy for HB 5117

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