Sen. Blumenthal, consumer activists blasts federal efforts to ban GMO labeling

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HARTFORD– Connecticut advocates are who pushed for mandatory labels on genetically modified food are dismayed by a proposed federal law that would essentially undo the efforts that resulted in a state law.

Tara Cook-Littman was on the frontlines of Connecticut’s struggle to pass a law in 2013, requiring the labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms.

“It’s  been the fight of a lifetime for me personally, and activists all over the country,” said Littman, the head of Citizens for GMO Labeling.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015”– creating federal standards calling for voluntary labeling of foods with GMO ingredients.

It would preempt mandatory labeling state laws, such as those approved in Connecticut, Vermont and Maine.

“State legislators should be outraged right now that the federal government is trying to take their citizens’ rights away,” Littman said.

Activists like her call the House bill “the DARK Act,” an acronym for “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.” The argument is that they are unnecessary and costly because GMOs have already been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

“They may be right, but why not make their case to the people. If there’s nothing to fear, why are they keeping American consumers in the dark?” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal joined other activists at the farmer’s market at Billings Forge in Hartford Thursday to urge support for a bill he’s sponsoring to get the FDA to require clear labels on genetically engineered foods.

The food industry says about 75-80 percent of foods available to American consumers contain genetically modified ingredients.

“Genetic engineering is a feature of a product that should be part of a label, and that’s all we’re seeking here–the right to know,” Blumenthal said.

Jeff Cordulack, the head of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, said House passage of the voluntary GMO labeling bill “was a blow to all the citizens in the country who have worked to enact, fair, transparent labeling laws about genetically engineered food products.”

A grassroots effort supporting Blumenthal’s measure is picking up steam. This week, actress Blythe Danner and her daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, attended a Capitol Hill press conference with Blumenthal. The actresses are part of a “Just Label It” campaign, which includes a petition drive that will ask General Mills, Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to quit funding “anti-labeling efforts.”

Connecticut’s GMO law contains a trigger that will only allow it to go into effect once other Northeast states with a combined population of 20 million adopt similar laws.

Maine’s law has a trigger, like Connecticut’s. But Vermont’s does not and is scheduled to go into effect next July.

There are dozens of GMO labeling bills pending in other states as well.