It’s purely coincidence that Argylesock and I were having a dialogue about GMO labeling just last week. Then, last Monday, Connecticut, a blue state with the highest per capita income in the U.S., became the first to require food manufacturers to label products that contain GMOs. Well, they almost did.
You see, the bill was passed with a contingency placed upon it by Governor Dannel Malloy. And that is, that it will not take effect until at least four other states, one of which shares a border with Connecticut, pass bills requiring similar conditions. The Connecticut Governor’s agreement with the legislature also requires that the states have a total population of at least 20 million people. It passed with a vote of 134 to 3.
This idea of contingent legislation is not unique. Further north, lawmakers in Maine passed a bill prohibiting the sale of gasoline if it contains more than 10% ethanol. However, similar to the labeling bill, the law will only go effect if two other New England states pass similar legislation.
The argument behind making the fuel bill contingent is that Maine would experience a price hike if refiners are required to create a custom gasoline blend. Hence, it protects consumers from a jump in fuel prices. Conversely, the contingency placed upon the food labeling bill is defended as a method of shielding small business from the labeling liability that will create more costs. It’s really the same argument – just told differently.
In the European Union, citizens are legally entitled to know whether or not the foods and products that they’re using are from genetically modified crops or livestock. In the U.S., another 20 states are considering labeling laws, including New York and Vermont – significant because they border Connecticut. Across the country in the state of Washington, polls suggest widespread support for a ballot initiative that would require labeling. Much of that concern centers on the state’s banner food crops of apples and salmon. And while Connecticut would be the first to embrace widespread labeling, Alaska already requires labeling of any genetically engineered fish or shellfish.
Even with a rising tide of support for labeling, there is formidable opposition. Food and seed giants such as Monsanto spent millions last year to defeat a ballot measure that required labeling in California. The state Senate of New Mexico voted not to adopt the report of the committee that it had assigned to study the issue of labeling. Efforts are stalled in Hawaii, Maine and Vermont and also on Monday, a New York labeling bill was defeated after intense lobbying from a trade group of makers of genetically modified seeds.
Arguments against labeling suggest that it will disadvantage businesses by encumbering them with the cost of the requirement. Some groups suggest that labeling be voluntary and required only per the FDA. Still, others believe that understanding the source of our food is a basic right.
One thing that is clear is that this is an issue that will continue to be discussed. Where do you stand?