Saturday, May 5, 2012

Lawmakers urge labels

Lawmakers urge labels for genetically modified food
By Ken Dixon
Greenwich Time
May 05, 2012

HARTFORD — A bill linking Connecticut to a pending referendum in California that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods is in a race with the legislative adjournment date later this week.

Lawmakers pushing for the so-called genetically modified organisms (GMO) legislation say it’s important to allow people to decide for themselves whether they want to purchase the controversial products.

But House leaders are concerned over the possible lengthy debate on the constitutionality of requiring the labeling, and making a Connecticut law dependent on action in another state.

“We’re trying to get it on the `go’ list,” said Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the legislative Environment Committee, who this year has made the labeling issue one of the major goals of his final year in the General Assembly.

During an interview outside the House chamber on Friday, Roy said that getting it on the list for action means that it could hit the House floor for debate at almost any time. He said that similar bills are moving forward in Massachusetts and Vermont.

“We’re confident that we’re going to have at least three states in New England ready to go once California does its vote,” Roy said. “It would put us on the doorstep of having GMO products labeled so that consumers could have an opportunity to know what they’re getting.”

Products that have ingredients changed after being injected with genes from other species would have to be labeled “Genetically Engineered” or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Roy said he’s worried that congressional inaction in Washington is allowing corporate giants, including Monsanto, to prevent important information from getting to consumers.

“If California votes it and the other states join us, next year it could happen,” Roy said of the labeling effort. But first, the bill has to win approval in the House and get ratified in the Senate before 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said “there’s nothing concrete” on the prospects of the bill getting to the House floor, but he’s optimistic.

“We’re getting some questions from people on how we’d implement it and whether it’s constitutional,” Camillo said in an interview outside the House chamber. “But these are things you’re going to get in about almost any bill up here. So if it’s not done this year, which I hope it does, I think we’ll be set up well for the next one or two years, to be passed.”

Part of the legislative compromise was to use the upcoming November referendum in California as a trigger for the Connecticut labeling law. Advocates of labeling charge that 70 percent of America’s processed foods contain GMOs, including corn and soybeans.

“Close to 50 countries have banned it,” Camillo said of GMOs. “This isn’t doing that. All we want is to have people know what they’re doing.”

House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said there’s a chance that the bill will reach the House floor.

“I know there have been some questions raised about the constitutionality,” he said in an interview on the House floor. “That’s a problem that we’ve been trying to work through with our legal staff, and I’m not sure that we’ve reached that conclusion yet,” Sharkey said.

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