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Retiring Lawmaker Invites Lawsuit Over GMOs

by Hugh McQuaid | Dec 12, 2012 4:57pm
(3) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Agriculture, Business, Milford

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford

Earlier this year, a bipartisan bill that would have required a label on foods that contain genetically modified organisms was tabled for fear it would provoke a lawsuit. At a Wednesday rally, the bill’s proponent, retiring Rep. Richard Roy, said “Let them sue us.”

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are crops have been genetically engineered not to die when sprayed with herbicide. They’re commonly used in the production of soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. While more than 60 countries have required that consumers be notified that they’re purchasing food containing GMOs, the United States has not.

If it passed, Connecticut’s legislation would have been the first of its kind as an attempt to regulate an area of the food industry that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has — more or less— chosen to ignore. The FDA argues that genetically modified food is generally recognized as safe and therefore does not warrant a label for consumers.

It’s a position that some dispute. But advocates say it’s irrelevant whether GMOs are safe for consumption because consumers deserve to know what they are eating.

Tara Cook-Littman is a mother and activist who has organized a grassroots campaign to get the labeling legislation passed. She led Wednesday’s rally of about 60 people outside the Legislative Office Building.

“I don’t have the right to choose what to feed my children. I cannot choose whether or not to buy GMOs because there is no labeling. Honestly, I’m getting ready to move to France. I’m going to move there because at least there I would be able to choose what to feed my children,” she said.

The original legislation was opposed by both the Connecticut Department of Agriculture and the Connecticut Farm Bureau.

The FDA determined that labeling for genetically engineered foods is not scientifically or legally warranted unless the product has a difference in nutritional value or contains an allergen, Henry Talmage, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, said during a public hearing last February.

Food labeling would have ramifications on producers and food providers that would be costly for farmers in terms of separate inventories, labeling, and segregation, he said. Ultimately, the passage of the bill would require higher packaging costs.

The state Department of Agriculture opposed the legislation because Connecticut would be at a competitive disadvantage with other states if it sets standards that the federal government does not set for the nation.

Nonetheless, Connecticut’s legislature was on track to require the labels for foods sold in the state. The bill was passed out of the Environment Committee with support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But legislative leaders cooled to the idea after similar efforts in Vermont were stopped by the threat of litigation from biotech giant Monsanto.

Critics of efforts to force companies to disclose when foods contain genetically modified ingredients argue that it impedes the First Amendment rights of companies, and amounts to state governments forcing the industry to speak.

Roy, D-Milford, welcomed the litigation, saying it could force the same interests to speak under oath.

“What leadership in our government, I’m going to put it that way, did was to panic and worry about a lawsuit. Well, we need a lawsuit. Let them sue us. Let them go to court and testify under oath,” he said.

Roy said the bill made it through the committee process, evidence that it did not violate the constitution.

Rep. Phillip Miller, an Ivorytown Democrat who chairs the legislature’s GMO Task Force, said the goal this year is to write similar legislation in a way that shields the state from litigation.

Later in the day, Miller, Roy, and the rest of the task force heard from lawyer and author Steven Druker, who spoke to the group via Skype. Druker told the lawmakers on the task force they would be well within their rights to pass the legislation.

He said the FDA has illegally refused to regulate GMOs. That’s because they don’t fit the standard to be “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS.

Druker said when Congress passed that standard, their intent was to prevent companies from having to re-test food additives that already had been scientifically studied. The GRAS standard requires that the assertion that something is safe for consumption be backed by studies. He said those studies don’t exist in the case of GMOs. Druker had some harsh words for the FDA on their handling of the issue.

“In light of the FDA’s brazen disregard for truth, science, and the law in regard to genetically engineered foods, and its willingness to regularly subject American families to novel foods that its own scientists warned are uniquely hazardous, it would be serious understatement to characterize the actions as merely irresponsible . . . they are reprehensible,” Druker said.

In that situation, Druker said any state has the right to enact legislation to compensate for the FDA’s inaction. He suggested legislatures have the authority to not only require labels for the foods, but also to ban them from store shelves until the GMOs have been adequately studied.

Roy, who did not seek re-election this year and will not be in the legislature next year to push for such a ban, recommended his colleagues consider such a provision.

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(3) Comments

posted by: dano860 | December 13, 2012  8:35am

If you drink milk or eat chicken and beef you have been getting GMO’s for years.  All of the corn that is used as feed and silage has been treated to be resistant to Round-Up and other chemicals.  The seeds are also altered to be disease and pest resistant.  Our entire food chain has been affected for years.
I’m surprised they just don’t want to TAX it, soda tax sugar tax, GMO tax, used tire tax, air tax…come on Donny W. there has to be more opportunities to get money to give to the lazy among us.

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | December 13, 2012  12:15pm

The Dems consitently said Repubicans were anti-science, but since science says GMO’s no different from normal variants created by breeders and horticulturists what does that make these people? 

Higher yields feed more people, this used to be important to liberals.  Now their increasing isolationism from the rest of the world lets them throw the poor to fend for themselves

posted by: mythbuster | December 13, 2012  11:26pm

dano860 and DirtyJobsGuy must either be Biotech shills or just plain uninformed. Yes, we have been eating GMO tainted food for years, and the incidence of food allergies, gastro intestinal ailments, diabetes, autism and a host of other medical problems have skyrocketed. Is it a coincidence that this phenomenon and the introduction of GMO’s into our food supply are on the same time line? Use common sense. Can a food crop that thrives in a toxic environment, while everything else around it dies, be good for consumption? Can a food crop whose DNA has been altered with the genes of a bacterium be good for us? Monsanto has taken the genes of Bacillus thurengiensis which is used as an organic insecticide, and inserted the gene trait into the DNA of corn. Every corn plant growing from those seeds produces its own internal insecticide in every cell of that plant. If an insect takes a bite of that corn plant, it causes its stomach to explode. Common sense people, just use common sense.