By Analiese Paik
I made a conscious decision not to work on GMO labeling bill advocacy this year after what I saw go down at the state capitol last year. Instead, I’ve focused on educating and empowering the public to choose organic and Non-GMO via this website and GMO events. I publicly told many people that there was close to a zero chance of passing a GMO labeling bill this session and I didn’t want to waste my energy on something so futile. I hate being right.
It’s so tempting to believe that a stake has been put in the ground, that a precedent is finally being set for legislation mandating the labeling of GMOs. It’s so alluring that I believed for the better part of the day that it was true. I listened to other advocates, but I didn’t want to believe them. I wanted to believe that our state legislators were heeding the pleas of their constituents and working hard to give us the transparency we’ve been asking for. I wanted to believe that Democracy was hard at work and we, the people, would be the beneficiaries.
But it’s not that simple. Politics is politics and we have plenty of it in our state. How else can you explain a comprehensive GMO labeling bill (SB 802 which contains language from original HB 6519) championed by State Senator John McKinney being voted 35-1 out of the Senate on Tuesday only to languish and have the House originate and pass a crippled version of the bill ( HB 6527) on Friday? Why wasn’t SB 802 sent to the House for a vote after receiving such a strong mandate from the Senate? Why did the House have to come up with their own version of the bill? What will happen when this impotent bill arrives in the Senate? How will they reconcile voting for 6527 after sending a robust bill of their own out of chambers earlier in the week?
Something is better than nothing I told myself. But what is the “something” that we have? Is it real something or just a mirage? Food & Water Watch has been in the trenches, behind the scenes, and front and center advocating for a GMO labeling bill. They provided the following analysis which supports the idea that the House version passed Friday is a labeling bill in name only.
Analysis on recent Connecticut Senate and House activity concerning GMO labeling
Last night the House did not address the Senate billwhich had very favorable consumer-benefiting language. Instead, they amended one of their original bills and are kicking it back to the Senate.
Advocates view this legislation as fatally flawed.
As HB 6527 with Amendment LCO 7848 goes to the Senate, here are the issues:
1. The increase to 5 trigger states is of concern, and the requirement that 2 border states, specifically, need to also pass legislation makes it very difficult for this to be enacted anytime soon, if it becomes law. MA and NY are not as far along on this issue, and RI has no current legislation.
2. An aggregate population of 25 M is a very high number.
(CT, VT, RI, NY, ME and MA together equal 21.486 million. Figures by Analiese Paik. Source: US Census Bureau)
3. A major concern is there is a huge loophole in Section 3 (b) (5): Any GM crop or product solely derived from a GM crop from a farm with less than 1.5 million gross sales is exempt.
Based on USDA reports of farm sizes and gross yields, an analysis of one crop alone, corn, shows that most corn grown in the US may never be labeled due to the figures in this exemption. This will exclude food products such as kernel and corn on the cob, corn chips, tortillas, corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup, corn-derived additives, etc.
What will happen on Tuesday when our state legislators are back in session and HB 6527 is sent to the Senate for a vote? How much does it ultimately matter?
I need something to believe in, something to give me hope. What I return to again and again is the free market system that our country enjoys (mostly anyway) and how it’s finally responding to consumer demand for GMO transparency. Whole Foods Market announced in early March that all products sold in its stores containing GMOs must be labeled by 2018, Chipotle is labeling GMO ingredients in their products and is eliminating them from their foods, Kashi is reformulating to Non-GMO and organic, and Ben & Jerry’s has pledged to go Non-GMO and lists products containing GMOs on its website. Genetically engineered fish haven’t even been approved yet, but that hasn’t stopped Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and other retailers from just saying no. GE fish is now unwelcome in 2,000 stores nationwide. What store, restaurant chain or food manufacturers will be next?
Get mad. Be disappointed. But above all remember that competition for the almighty consumer dollar, your dollar, is more powerful than any piece of legislation.