By Cecilia Petricone
In 2013, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law requiring that GMOs be labeled in food products. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have undergone a process that alters their genes or DNA. Sometimes it is done to mutate superficial aspects like shape or color, while other times it is done to alter growing habits or reactions to pesticides. You may be wondering, if the law was passed over a year ago, where are the labels?
The law, which was spearheaded by GMO Free Connecticut, a local GMO labeling group, contains a three-part trigger clause requiring that four other states in the region enact similar legislation, that one of those states must border Connecticut, and that the combined population of the additional states be 20 million.
If all New England states adopted similar bills they would still be 9 million people short of meeting the population minimum for the trigger clause. This means that New York, Pennsylvania or New Jersey, states with significantly higher populations that of the New England states need to pass similar legislation in order to satisfy the population minimum.
In January 2014, Maine adopted a GMO labeling law, but Maine only has a population of 1.33 million. In May 2014, Vermont passed a no-strings-attached law that requires GMOs labeling by July 2016.
The law has much popular support, but it has enormous corporate opposition. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit claiming mandatory labeling is an unconstitutional burden and that the opponents have not shown a sufficient degree of harm through its use of GMOs that would require it to label it.
Vermont tried unsuccessfully to have the case dismissed in August 2014. But, at this point, the judge agrees that the terms “natural” and “all natural” are not to be used on products that contain GMOs.
New York is pushing for a GMO labeling law. In April of 2015, Pennsylvania proposed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act — if it becomes law it will also require that GMOs be labeled and prevent any food containing genetically modified material from being labeled as “natural.”
Globally, 64 countries require that the use of GMOs be indicated on food labels, including the European Union, Russia, Japan and China, the United States stands practically alone amongst developed countries that do not require GMOs to be labeled.
The labeling of GMOs in food remains controversial. Over 70 bills are circulating in more than 30 states to require GMO labeling. Corporate opposition has slowed down the process, but with growing public awareness and the many unknowns surrounding the effects of GMOs, there is no doubt that support of labeling will continue nationwide.
Cecilia Petricone is an intern at the Office of the Community Lawyer. She is a senior at Northwestern Regional High School.