Hartford — A bill that would require the labeling of genetically modified food cleared the state Senate late Tuesday night by a vote of 35-1
Proponents of the bill had staged a rally at the Capitol in advance of the vote.
"I want my children to have the ability to choose and their mother to have the ability to choose what food my four grandchildren are eating," state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said. "It's about labeling; it's that simple."
Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said GMO labeling has bipartisan support.
"What we are embarking on is nothing less than the most important fight of our generation when it comes to our food," he said.
It's not just about the safety of what we eat, which is critical, he said, but it's also about how genetically modified foods are engineered so that increasing amounts of pesticides and herbicides can be poured on farmland.
"Right now in the Midwest, the breadbasket of America, we are scorching the earth," Williams said. "It is crippling our ecosystem."
Paul Pescatello, a board member of Connecticut United for Research Excellence, which supports the growth of the bioscience sector, said the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have not found any differences between GMO and non-GMO foods.
He said he doesn't support labeling in part because of the constitutional issue of commercial free speech. States' attorneys general around the country have said that a company can only be required to say something about its product if there is a compelling state interest, he said, and the science doesn't show there is such an interest.
"There is an implication that there is something wrong with GMO food; that there is sort of a scarlet letter attached on this food. ... It would be unfortunate for people to not use GMO foods for a sort of a unfounded fear," Pescatello said.
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, said her grandfather and father used pesticides liberally on their family farm and have cancer.
"I don't need the research they are asking for to tell me that in the environment I grew up in, that pesticides are no good for us. They are not made for us," Bartolomeo said.
Bartolomeo said 64 countries around the world require GMO labeling, according to GMO Inside, a campaign that promotes people's right to know what is in their food.
Meagan Erhart of Lyme, a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, said, "Everyone should have the right to decide whether or not to eat GMOs."
Another Food & Water Watch member, Matt Lipman of Waterford, said they are not waiting for federal legislation. "We want to have strong state legislation," he said.
The bill originally was developed by state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, and state Rep. Philip Miller, D-Ivoryton, in the House, but the House has not called the bill to the floor.
"God bless the Senate for coming forward and saying we are going to go for it," Urban said Tuesday.