Improved labeling is food for thought at Ledyard forum

Ledyard - State farmers, political and religious leaders on Sunday called for "food sovereignty" as they push for the labeling of products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) - plants and animals that have been modified with genetic engineering.

At a forum on GMOs following the morning's worship at Ledyard Congregational Church, participants said the right for people to be informed should also extend to their food.

"You can't read the label because there is no label," former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons said. "I like to know what I buy. I like to know what I'm eating. I like to know if the shrimps I'm buying were caught in China, Thailand or Louisiana."

The former congressman from Stonington was joined by William Duesing, president of the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association, who said that feeding the world's people for the next two or three decades has been identified as a "major problem going forward" and that the country's reliance on 90 million acres of corn that is eventually turned into things that are "increasing our health care costs" needs to end.

"We need a food system that does more than one thing, we need food sovereignty. GMO labeling seems like a no-brainer," Duesing said.

He pointed specifically to the independent and organic farmers in Connecticut and the efforts and initiatives started by food co-ops, farmers markets, community gardens and public schools with gardens throughout the state.

"It's amazing the energy that people have brought to this issue in all communities," he said."

There are two GMO bills that will be considered by the state legislature this session.

State Rep. Philip Miller, D-Essex will introduce a bill that would require foods containing GMOs to be labeled as such. That bill will be heard in the Public Health Committee, where it is being introduced.

The second bill, focusing on labeling for infant formula and other baby foods that contain GMOs, including genetically modified corn-based ingredients, will be introduced by Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington.

State Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, said during the forum on Sunday that he would back Urban's bill because of his work with children.

"I would think that any parent of any child would want to know what their children are eating," he said. "This is a matter of choice and informed choice is in the best interest of the families of children. This is at the heart of the issue for me."

In his work as a behavioral health consultant for LEARN, Bowles said he has seen the number of children on the autism spectrum increase by more than 78 percent in the last 10 years. While he did not directly blame the use of GMOs, he said he believes there is a strong enough correlation between the two to begin with the labeling of baby food.

Also at the forum was Ian Skoggard, a member of the New Haven United Church of Christ Environmental Ministry Team.

Skoggard said that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate GMO foods.

"Why label? Because we don't know all of the answers. Even experts are not experts in this new technology. We don't know what the long-term consequences of GMOs are," Skoggard said. "The science has not been done. The science is so new, that we don't know what the long-term effects are."

j.hanckel@theday.com

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