Same mission, new director at CT NOFA

It turns out CT is a still a revolutionary state on a number of fronts. That includes passage of the first state legislation in the county to require labeling genetically modified organisms (GMO) as ingredients, a monumental victory for the organic and pure food community.

The bill, passed by the Senate on Saturday and Monday by the House, includes the caveat that a northeastern region of at least four other states, or about 20 million people, need to pass similar legislation to make the practice viable. Unlike an earlier version, the final bill does not provide for an exemption for smaller farmers, which would have undermined the original intent.

"It's phenomenal, this is the first state GMO labeling legislation to be passed in the nation," says Eileen Hochberg, CT NOFA's new executive director, hired in April. "Labeling GMOs in our food has been a priority of this organization since 2006. We are quite proud of our work and the work of many other organizations and farms, including GMO Free CT, Sierra Club CT, Food and Water Works and Food Democracy Now."

CT NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) has been around for 31 years, advocating that organic and sustainable methods of agriculture, land care and everyday living is healthier for us and the planet. The organization opposes the use of genetically engineered crops as well as chemically treated seeds, synthetic toxic materials, irradiation, and sewage; sludge in their farming; and all synthetic substances in all post-harvest handling. Its members include farmers, gardeners, land care professionals, consumers and businesses.

The intent is to require labeling of foods that contain ingredients from crops or animals that have been transgenically altered by humans. These are classified as GMOs, thanks to federal regulations set in the 1980s that allowed the first commercial crops involving recombinant (gene-splicing) technology to be introduced.

Industrial agriculturalists say it's impossible to avoid comingling of recombinant and non-altered crops, and the government has already approved the use and safety of specific herbicide-tolerant and bug resistant GMO crops. CT NOFA and others contend the vast majority of Americans want to know what's in their food and to make their own choices.

A lifelong organic foods advocate, Hochberg lives just over the border in Somers, N.Y., where she's a board member of Slow Foods Metro North. She has ties to Stonington and knows many organic Connecticut farms and markets first hand. As director of conservation outreach for the Westchester Land Trust, she created a farmer network of more than 300 local food and agricultural stakeholders and set up a farmer-landowner matching program.

Hochberg says public interest in organic farming and non-GMO foods has grown, along with more support of local organic farmers, CSAs and farm stands. She also reports more new and beginning farmers and people interested in learning NOFA's organic and sustainable farming practices that focus first on feeding the soil.

Bill Duesing, CT NOFA's previous long-standing executive director is still actively involved in the cause. Duesing says his title is now organic advocate for the organization. He'll be perhaps even busier in this part-time position, out on the speaker circuit. He will also continue with the Connecticut Food System Alliance and work on some projects of his own.

CT NOFA's 2013-14 Farm and Food Guide is in print and online and lists organic farms that have taken the CT NOFA pledge to produce crops and livestock by NOFA's standards. These are similar to USDA's Certified Organic program started in 2000. The guide lists 19 farms in New London County that have taken CT NOFA's pledge or are USDA Certified Organic, or both, plus 21 farmers markets. Find it at ctnofa.org.

Get the latest update on GMO labeling from Eileen Hochberg on Suzanne's "CT Outdoors" radio show today from 12:30 to 1 p.m. at WLIS 1420 AM and WMRD 1150 AM or listen anytime from the On Demand archives at www.wliswmrd.net.

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