Ledyard panel to look at labeling genetically modified foods

Ledyard - Genetically modified foods, which will be addressed in two bills to be considered by the state legislature this session, will be the topic of a panel discussion Sunday.

The forum will take place at Ledyard Congregational Church, with Robert Burns, a local farmer and member of the board of the Ledge Light Health District, leading the discussion. The panel will be comprised of state Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston; William Deusing, president of the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association; and former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons of Stonington.

"This is not a partisan issue," Bowles said this week. "From everything I've read and looked at, there are enough legitimate concerns to warrant labeling" of foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. GMOs are plants and animals that have been modified with genetic engineering.

State Rep. Philip Miller, D-Essex, said Tuesday that he is initiating a bill that will be considered in the legislature this session that would require that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such. The first public hearings on the bill would take place in the Public Health Committee, where it is being introduced.

"They're not natural. It's not the same as plant genetics," said Miller, who is vice chairman of the Public Health Committee.

While organic farming organizations are supportive of the bill, Miller said, some other agriculture groups are not. Ice cream makers who use corn syrup sweeteners, for example, are opposed, because many corn-based products are derived from genetically modified corn.

"But they could use evaporated cane sugar," he said.

Labeling, he said, would enable consumers to decide whether they want to purchase foods containing GMOs.

"Any economy works best when consumers make educated choices," he said, adding that 62 countries have labeling requirements.

The other bill is being introduced by Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, and will have its first hearing in the Children Committee. It would require labeling for infant formula and other baby foods that contain GMOs, including genetically modified corn-based ingredients.

Using GMOs in baby foods, she believes, is particularly troubling because their long-term effects are unknown. Because infants are growing and developing rapidly, they would be more susceptible to any harmful effects, she said.

"The consumer should be able to know whether there is a GMO or not," said Urban, who is co-chairwoman of the Children Committee.

j.benson@theday.com

If you go

What: Panel discussion on genetically modified foods

When: 11 a.m. Sunday

Where: Ledyard Congregational Church, 722 Colonel Ledyard Highway

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