Whole Foods helps GMO Free CT go national

GMO Free CT, the grass-roots group that used social media to unexpectedly win a Connecticut labeling law for genetically modified foods this year, is going national – backed by the sale of an organic smoothie drink about to go on sale at Whole Foods.

The new effort is a byproduct of the movement’s success and its failure: It overcame significant opposition to win passage of a first-of-its-kind law in June, but the measure will not take effect unless triggered by action in other states.

Four other Northeast states, including one that must border Connecticut, with an aggregate population of 20 million, require GMO labeling before labels are required here. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy did not want the state to impose a labeling rule alone.

“Our job in Connecticut is not complete until our bill goes into effect,” said Tara Littman-Cook of Fairfield, the founder of GMO Free CT.

The new national group, Citizens for GMO Labeling, is a coalition of grass-roots leaders from several states working on GMO labeling laws. It will be one of the nonprofit groups to share in the profits of a smoothie line from Suja Elements sold only at Whole Foods.

Citizens for GMO Labeling will get 20 cents from the sale of every bottle of Suja’s “berryoxidant” flavor. Suja will sell six flavors, with a different nonprofit designated as the beneficiary of each one. The company expects to donate $1 million.

“We believe the trigger clause in our bill is a call to action and we’ve accepted that call,” Littman-Cook said. “Citizens for GMO Labeling will provide the professional advocacy, grass-roots and social media support activists need to win.”

Jim Leahy, a lobbyist for GMO Free CT, said Beth Beisel, a dietician from Farmington, will lead the state group as Littman-Cook focuses on the national effort, which will be based in Connecticut.

Whole Foods already has imposed its own GMO labeling standard, saying it will require by 2018 that every food product it sells be labeled to indicate if it contains genetically modified organisms.

“We believe non-GMO verification needs to be robust, science-based, credible and based on standards created by multiple stakeholders,” the company said in its blog. Accordingly, we have designated certified organic, which prohibits the intentional use of GMOs, and the Non-GMO Project Verified program as the only two verification methods that we will permit as substantiation that a product can be considered non-GMO within Whole Foods Market.”

The company ruled out establishing its own standard.

The labeling law in Connecticut appeared dead with a week left in the 2013 session of the General Assembly when GMO Free CT used Facebook and other social media to bring pressure on Malloy and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, whom activists deemed responsible for the apparent defeat.

Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said the outpouring made the difference, leading him to stand with Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, outside the Senate and announce a deal for passage with Sharkey and Malloy.

The compromise trigger language means that labels won’t be required in Connecticut until New York or Massachusetts adopts a similar rule, since a contiguous state must be among the four.

Massachusetts, with either New Jersey or Pennsylvania, would meet the 20-million population threshold set in the Connecticut law, Leahy said. All three states have strong groups pushing for passage, he said.

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