Area residents weigh in on GMO legislation

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Fri., Jun. 28, 2013
The NECT Farmers' Market travels to five different locations during the week. Photos by D. Coffey.
The NECT Farmers' Market travels to five different locations during the week. Photos by D. Coffey.

Connecticut became the first state in the nation to pass legislation requiring labeling on genetically modified foods on June 26. The law requires that food intended for human consumption that is entirely or partially genetically engineered to bear the words, “Produced with Genetic Engineering” on the packaging. The phrase must be in the same font and size as the ingredients list on the nutrition panel.

The catch with the legislation is that four other states in the northeastern United States must adopt similar legislation, with one of those states being contiguous to Connecticut. In addition, any combination of northeastern states with a combined population of at least 20 million people must approve similar legislation.

Some shoppers at the June 27 farmers' market in Putnam called the legislation wimpy. But the Senate Democrats' director of communications, Adam Joseph, said those clauses were meant to ensure that Connecticut wouldn't be an outlier in the region. Connecticut-specific labeling requirements would most likely have led to higher prices for the state's consumers. “I don't think the governor would have signed the bill if it didn't require other states to join in,” said Joseph. “They had concerns about isolating Connecticut.”

If Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut were to pass similar legislation, it still wouldn't be enough to trigger the law. The populations of those states taken together don't add up to 20 million. But if New York (19.3 million), New Jersey (8.8 million) or Pennsylvania (12.7 million) pass similar laws, it would provide the necessary numbers, said Joseph.  

For Virge Lorents, the issue is a simple one. “I want to know what's in my food,” she said. Lorents has been growing her own organic food since the '70s. “It's important to me,” she said. “Why would I want to eat anything that would possibly sicken me? There's no reason for me to take a risk. I'm not a lab experiment. I don't want to be treated like a lab experiment.”

State Sen. Donald Williams Jr. (D-29) supported the bill. He said there was mounting scientific evidence that showed genetically modified foods might be harmful to human health. “I have heard from local organic farmers and individuals from across my district about the effects of GMOs,” said Williams. “Connecticut families deserve to have all the information they need to make informed, healthy choices when feeding their families.”

The law doesn’t ban, restrict or tax anything, but it will ensure that people know what's in the food they are buying. And plenty of that food might be labeled when the law comes to fruition. A vast number of corn and soybean crops are already genetically modified in the U.S. The harvesting of those crops finds its way into processed foods all across the country. In California, voters recently rejected a proposition requiring GMO labeling.

Wayne Hansen, of Wayne's Organic Farms, carried a list of companies he will no longer buy products from because of their opposition to Prop 37. They include Kashi, Cascadian Farms, Ben and Jerry, Tropicana Organic, Morningstar Farms and Odwalla. “I'm not saying there is something wrong with GMOs. I don't know. But they don't either,” he said. “They didn't think there was anything wrong with DDT 20 years ago. What's so hard about saying it on the label?

For Sally Timmons, it's a liberty issue. “We're Americans,” she said. “We should know. We should be able to make our own choices.”

Cancer survivor Toni Moumouris is careful about she eats. “When I talk to my oncologist and doctors, they say to eat as much organic and non-GMO foods as possible. They don't know. There's controversy about GMOs. You hope what you buy doesn't have all this garbage in it.”

“That's why it's good to go to the farmers' markets and buy local,” added Hansen.

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