GMO labeling: technically alive, but realistically dead

The prospect of Connecticut passing groundbreaking first-of-its-kind legislation to label genetically modified food is basically nonexistent.

Late last week lawyers from the Legislative Commissioners’ Office forced sponsors to gut the bill so that even if it passes — still a long shot — it would be little more than a statement of concern about GMOs, as genetically modified organisms are often called. At best, it would serve as a placeholder for future efforts.

“We’re looking at something I refer to as the ultra-vanilla,” said Rep. Richard Roy, D- Milford, co chairman of the Environment Committee and chief sponsor of the legislation.

The original legislation would have required labeling of most retail food — not for schools or restaurants — that is at least partially GMO. It would have exempted all animal products, including those that receive GMO feed.

Roy said LCO attorneys felt there was a high probability of a first amendment challenge from Monsanto, the chief producer of GMO seed and a company with vast financial resources.

The language was then re-written with a trigger mechanism. A Connecticut labeling requirement would kick in if a ballot initiative under way in California succeeds and if two other New England states also require GMO labeling. Vermont and Massachusetts are considering measures.

But Roy said that, too, was considered risky. So even as he and other legislators stood with GMO labeling activists on the steps of the Capital Friday, Roy knew the legislation was likely to be reduced to symbolism.

As for it going forward: “I don’t know,” Roy said. “I’m going to talk to leadership to see if we can make this statement and essentially tell the world that we’re watching this.”

But then added: “If California falters we’re all dead.”