On GE Labeling, Progress in the Northeast Despite Biotech Industry Pressure
After a recent flurry of activity throughout the Northeast around efforts to require the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, one thing is certain – the grassroots movement to ensure consumers’ right to know what they’re buying is picking up steam. Despite last minute meddling from industry lobbyists in New York, strong legislative progress on GE labeling in Connecticut suggests the Northeast may be setting the bar for the advancement of labeling nationwide.
The biggest news this week came from Connecticut, where the state legislature passed a law – which Governor Malloy intends to sign – that will require the labeling of almost all food products containing GE ingredients. Good news indeed, as this marks a significant victory. Yet implementation of the law is dependent upon a number of unmet conditions, including other states in the region passing their own labeling laws as well.
Advocates in Connecticut are rightly pleased with this week’s developments, but there is still much work to be done throughout the region. One specific “trigger” for enacting the legislation – that labeling laws in other states cover at least 20 million people – has turned attention to high-population states like New York, where momentum on GE labeling (also known as GMO labeling) is growing despite an initial biotech industry-induced setback in the legislature.
By now, the biotech industry’s big-money, quick-response ability to stifle public will and popular opinion should come as no surprise. Last November, giant chemical makers like Monsanto and DuPont joined with processed food companies to spend almost $50 million dollars to defeat California’s Proposition 37, a simple GE food labeling measure. The multinational corporations bombarded airwaves with inaccurate and misleading ads that confused voters into choosing against improved consumer protection and transparency.
Flash-forward to this week in New York, where after months of rising grassroots pressure and dedicated organizing by a diverse coalition of consumer, health, farming and food advocates, a GE labeling bill was finally posted for a vote in the State Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee. This was to be the first in a series of legislative tests the bill would ultimately have to face before becoming law.
Though the they knew the outcome would be close, advocates were buoyed on the morning of the vote when Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, a swing voter, indicated his strong support for the legislation by signing on to the bill as a cosponsor. Suddenly realizing they were beaten, lobbyists for the Council for Biotechnology Information leapt into action, berating committee members in Capitol offices and hallways. By the time of the vote that afternoon, Gabryszak had flipped under the industry pressure. The vote failed.
Gabryszak’s inexplicable flip-flop aside, the bill’s lead sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, has vowed to make sure the story has a positive outcome. “The fact that this bill made it to [a vote…] illustrates the tremendous impact that the advocates nationwide have had on this debate,” Rosenthal said. “Clearly, there is still work to be done, but I am confident that this bill will pass.”
While it remains to be seen whether the Northeast will indeed set the pace for GE labeling in America, there is no doubt that consumers throughout the region are increasingly driving progress in state legislatures. Stay tuned.