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On June 3, the Connecticut legislature passed a bipartisan GMO labeling bill, making it the first state to require food manufacturers to reveal whether their products include genetically engineered ingredients. The bill passed both chambers by a landslide, and right-to-know activists have declared it a major victory. But the bill comes with a catch. Before it goes into effect, similar legislation must be adopted in at least four other states, including one that borders Connecticut, and those states must have an aggregate population of at least 20 million residents.
In other words, the Nutmeg State will continue to do nothing on GMOs until New York, Massachusetts or Rhode Island and some combination of other states also decide to take on Big Ag and Big Biotech. This trigger clause was meant to protect Connecticut businesses from being put at a competitive disadvantage and to keep the state from “going it alone,” says Paul Towers of Pesticide Action Network. Towers called it “a cautious but important step.”
With a population of 3.5 million, Connecticut doesn’t hold the same sway as a large population state like New York or California that, just by acting alone, could force GMO labeling nationwide. (Since so much of their product is sold in those states, if one of them passed a labeling bill, food manufacturers would most likely just label all of the products they sell in the US, for the sake of efficiency.) That’s why the biotech and food industries dropped $46 million last year against California’s Prop. 37, out-spending right-to-know supporters 5 to 1 and ultimately defeating the measure.
Even with Connecticut’s trigger clause, advocates are optimistic. Tara Cook-Littman, the head of GMO Free CT, said her group fought against the clause throughout the legislative session. But ultimately, she said, the group felt that the integrity of the bill wasn’t compromised by its inclusion. “The truth is we really think we have nothing to fear from the trigger clause,” Cook-Littman told Mother Jones. “We’re hoping that the clause will end up being a catalyst to encourage other states to join us.”