House and Senate leaders, who earlier this month produced separate bills on the labeling of products with genetically modified organisms, reached a compromise Saturday that would make Connecticut a national leader in advising consumers.
The bill, approved 34-0 in the Senate after a brief evening debate, would require support from other neighboring states to create a core group for a labeling law, without forcing business to create new labels just for Connecticut.
The bipartisan deal replaces a Senate bill that would have allowed the state to stand alone by 2016 even if no other states took part in the GMO labeling effort, as well as a different House bill.
“This is a great day that we in Connecticut can lead the way on helping moms and dads across Connecticut, but I believe this can catch on across the nation, so that they can be informed and make informed choices when they buy foods,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield.
Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said that the trigger for the labeling requirement would be when any four states in the country approve it; and that Northeast states representing 20 million in population would agree.
“For example, New York has a population of 19 million and Connecticut has 3.5 million, so if New York alone were to come on, we’d meet the population side of the test,” Williams told reporters Saturday night. “We will be the first state to take this step with this kind of trigger.”
“Somebody has to go first and say it’s OK to do it with some kind of trigger,” McKinney said. “This gives great momentum for advocates in Pennsylvania and New York, for example, for GMO labeling, because if they’re successful in New York we’ll probably see it along the entire East Coast.”
Genetically engineered organisms hold the genes of other plants or animals and have been used to create weed and pesticide-resistant crops. Advocates for the legislation say that GMO corn and soy products have resulted in liver, kidney and bone marrow damage.
But state food-industry executives and the chemical industry challenge the advocates’ science and warn that requiring labeling could add extra costs for consumers.
“There’s an increasing avalanche of public support,” Williams said.
Williams, McKinney and Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, agreed that a compromise was needed or both bills would have died on June 5 with no progress on what is a growing consumer issue.
“I’m pleased that we were able to reach an agreement on this,” Sharkey told reporters. “We needed to do two things: one was the consumers’ right to know what’s in their food and the second is the consumers’ right to have affordable food available in the state of Connecticut.”
The bill that passed the House this month was less ambitious than the Senate’s and both chambers seemed less likely to compromise until leaders met earlier in the week.