They’re in 80% of the food we eat: genetically modified organisms. Some say they pose serious health risks.
Some believe those risks to be so serious, they’re willing to break the law in order to notify their fellow consumers that products may contain GMOs.
During Connecticut’s last legislative session, a bill mandating the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients nearly passed. On November 6th, California voted down a similar measure of their own, called Proposition 37. But back in Connecticut some say foods with GMOs are too dangerous to wait, so they’re taking the labeling into their own hands, quite literally, whether it’s legal or not.
“I just walk into the store”.
Nobody inside the Connecticut grocery store he’s walking knows exactly what Seth Wulsin is up to.
“This has like six ingredients that could be…” says Wulsin, holding a cereal box.
They don’t realize he’s on a secret mission to label food products that he believes contain something called GMOs, which many have never heard of before. His labels are from the website www.labelityourself.org. They’re made up of a skull and crossbones with an ear of corn and read, “warning, may contain GMOs”.
“I think that people have a basic right to know what they’re eating”, says Wulsin, speaking with FOX CT outside the grocery store.
Meanwhile, inside other Connecticut grocery stores, food policy advocate Tara Cook-Littman is sending a message about GMOs in a different way. She exclusively buys food certified as organic or non-GMO verified. The mother of three says her allegiance to non-GMO foods began when she felt sick several years ago and believes she was only healed after giving up “regular” food.
“GMOs are genetically modified organisms. They’re also known as genetically engineered foods”, says Cook-Littman.
You’ll find those foods all over the shelves of your grocery stores. Genetically modified organisms, which first saw usage in food about 15 years ago, help make crops pesticide resistant. They’re meant to help companies produce more food for their money and the FDA says they’re safe. But not everyone is stocking up.
“The majority of soy in this country is genetically modified”, says Littman, holding up a bottle of organic soy sauce she uses instead of the “off-the-shelf” version, which she believes is likely to contain genetically altered ingredients.
“There are animal studies that link GMOs with infertility, allergies, with gastrointestinal disease, with autism, and with cancer”, says Cook-Littman.
Most American corn, soy sugar beet, cotton (for cotton seed oil) and canola crops are genetically modified and feared dangerous by those like Cook-Littman who are pushing for mandated product labeling- not with skull and cross bones- but at the state policy level.
Representative Richard Roy passed cell phone and driving safety laws in Connecticut. His latest project is a bill to tackle GMOs, which he pitched last session and plans to reincarnate on the legislative floor in January.
“That bill proposed labeling any food products that contained GMOs…” says Rep. Roy of Milford, CT.
While some manufacturers voluntarily label their products as GMO free, if a law is enacted, every single product on the supermarket shelves that contains GMO would have to say so. But on a larger scale, the hope among labeling advocates is that instead of manufacturers saying their product has GMO inside, they will decide to take the GMO out of the product, and in the process, alter the American farm system.
“If you’re hiding the truth, that’s bad”, says Roy.
He brings up the United States and then points to countries like China, Japan, Russia and dozens of others which require GMO labeling. He says the U.S. is behind.
But the Connecticut Farm Bureau, Connecticut Food Association and corporations like Monsanto, which makes the seeds for GMO crops, say it’s not needed.
“I believe they are spreading fear that is not warranted”, says CT Food Association President, Stan Sorkin.
The Connecticut Farm Bureau is not opposed to a federal labeling law, but believes a statewide mandate would impose too much cost on the industry.
“We’re going to have expense in this – this is going to drive up the cost of foods, because we’re going to have to maintain different labels, different inventory”, says Henry Talmage, director of the CT Farm Bureau.
Despite majority support among legislators, the GMO labeling bill was shot down at the last minute, raising questions about why that occurred.
“The influence of Monsanto and the Biotech industry is so strong, that even the whisper of a threat, even the thought that there could be a threat of a lawsuit against CT for bringing a GMO labeling bill definitely had an impact on this bill’s death”, says Cook-Littman.
Safety and health concerns should trump cost according to Roy, who agrees with Littman when he says, “the labeling provision was eliminated from the bill due to fears that it opened the state up to a lawsuit. The attorneys for the leaderships and Governor’s office felt the Constitutional rights of Monsanto gave them the power to successfully sue the state.”
“All we have to do is start getting a couple of bodies and then we can ask, how many people do we want dead?” says Roy.
No documented human deaths have been linked to GMO but an experiment conducted at a French University released in September, claims a diet of only genetically modified corn caused tumors and organ damage in rats.
Seth Wulsin isn’t ready to call GMOs a killer, but says he’ll break one law until a different one gets passed.
“Asking for a label on our food is a very minor request, and the fact that they’re so adamant about not granting it, to me, says more about GMOs than anything else”, says Wulsin.
Monsanto says they have been involved in state labeling bills through their membership in associations including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
“In certain states, such as Connecticut, Monsanto has registered lobbyists. We participate to represent our interests, our farmer customers encourage us to be involved…” said Monsanto in a statement released to FOX CT News.
At the capitol, a spokesman says the GMO bill never even made it to the desk of Governor Dannel Malloy, but adds that bipartisan legislative attorneys were concerned about the potential for a lawsuit against the state.