Connecticut First State to Approve Labeling Genetically Modified Foods
Connecticut on Monday became the first state to pass a bill that would require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients — but only after other conditions are met.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he would sign the bill into law, after reaching an agreement with the legislature to include a provision that the law would not take effect unless four other states, at least one of which shares a border with Connecticut, passed similar regulations.
The Connecticut bill also hinges on those states including Northeastern states with a total population of at least 20 million.
“This bill strikes an important balance by ensuring the consumers’ right to know what is in their food while shielding our small businesses from liability that could leave them at a competitive disadvantage,” Mr. Malloy said in a statement issued over the weekend after negotiations on the necessary provisions.
The legislature passed the bill on Monday, 134 to 3.
More than 20 other states are considering labeling laws, including New York, Maine and Vermont. Early polling suggests widespread support for a ballot initiative that would require labeling in Washington, as concern spread about the impact of genetically engineered salmon and apples on two of the state’s marquee businesses.
In 2005, Alaska passed a law requiring the labeling of all genetically engineered fish and shellfish, but Connecticut would become the first state to adopt labeling broadly.
Cathleen Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said the industry supported voluntary labeling for genetically engineered ingredients. Dr. Enright noted that the Food and Drug Administration typically required labeling of foods only when issues like food safety, consumer health or nutrition were at stake.
She also said labeling by an individual state might put that state’s industry and businesses at a disadvantage compared with other states.
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, called Connecticut’s move an “important first step,” and “a reminder of where the tide is going on this issue.”
Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, a liberal farm policy research group, said that while the triggers were unusual, they could work to the labeling movement’s advantage. “The hurdles in the Connecticut bill, if surmounted, would mean a critical mass in the marketplace that would emulate the impacts that would have materialized if California had passed its ballot initiative,” Mr. Kastel said.
Big food and seed companies like Monsanto and Dow spent tens of millions of dollars last fall to help defeat a ballot measure in California that would have required labeling.
But whether other states will go as far as Connecticut is unclear. In New Mexico, the state Senate voted not to adopt the report of its committee recommending labeling, effectively killing the labeling effort there. Efforts in Vermont, Hawaii and Maine have stalled.
And on Monday, the New York labeling bill was defeated in committee after members, including several who were co-sponsors of the legislation, were lobbied intensely by a representative from the Council for Biotechnology Information, a trade group whose members are BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroScience, DuPont Monsanto and Syngenta — all major makers of genetically modified seeds and pesticides that work with them.
Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, Democrat of Manhattan, said there were more than 40 co-sponsors when it went into the committee. “We had the votes lined up to pass this, and then the lobbyist for Monsanto and the other big seed companies showed up and was speaking to members and calling them and visiting their offices,” she said.
Ms. Rosenthal said she intended to continue to press for a labeling bill in New York.