Monday, December 30, 2013

GMO Report and our Successes, by Bill Duesing

From CT NOFA's Organic Advocate

GMO Report and our Successes

 By Bill Duesing
Some of the people who got GMO Labeling passed in Connecticut, just after it was announced that the Senate version would be passed in the House and signed by the Governor.

Our organizing work has paid off with the first GMO labeling law in the country, with FDA's admission of problems with the very flawed rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act and with the possibility of the Supreme Court hearing the case against Monsanto brought by the Organic Seed Growers and Traders Association, including CT NOFA. 

Connecticut is the first state in the nation to have a law requiring labeling of GMOs. The first state! That "Still Revolutionary" slogan is apt. This success made a number of top ten lists in the food world.

CT NOFA was an important partner in making that happen. 

Our farmer, chef and consumer members showed up at rallies, hosted informational events, spoke on panels, contacted representatives and government officials and educated and inspired their neighbors. 

Our partners in this success included GMO Free CT, the Sierra Club, the United Church of Christ, the Ledge Light Health District, Food and Water Watch, Food Democracy Now, food policy councils, a wonderful bipartisan group of legislators and many others.

We succeeded because we worked together. (And because of many years of educational, advocacy and organizing work. Getting a label on GMOs was part of CT NOFA's 10 year Vision for Connecticut created in 2006.) An important turning point was when the Republican and Democrat leaders of the Senate worked together to bring a stronger bill out of the very weak House one.

Pulling the Trigger

You may hear grumblings about that trigger thing. Connecticut's law become effective only when four other states with at least 20 million people total population, and with at least one state bordering Connecticut, pass similar legislation.

We're working on that. Together.

Even at-first-reluctant Governor Malloy understands. At the ceremonial bill signing in December at the organic restaurant, Catch a Healthy Habit Cafe in Fairfield, he said "This is a beginning, and I want to be clear what it is a beginning of. It is a national movement that will require (food) labeling."

Governor Malloy added: "This is the time. You better get ready; people are coming and this is not a movement you are going to stop."

We feel the same way. Knowing how important the issue is and how it engages people, it shouldn't be too long before our law goes into effect.  

If you have friends or relatives in any of the surrounding states, encourage them to connect with labeling groups there. Chances are they will meet wonderful organic farmers, moms passionate about what they feed their kids, environmentalists concerned about increasing pesticide use with GMOs, chefs passionate about the food they serve, people of faith with spiritual concerns, food activists wanting to reclaim control of our food system and so many more. There is barely a sector of our society that this issue doesn't touch.  In Maine, even the Farm Bureau became a supporter of labeling.

Connecticut Win Energizes Other States

Activists and the other six NOFA chapters (and MOFGA) are all energized by our win in Connecticut.

Maine's GMO labeling law is awaiting the Governor's promised signing. Vermont's law has passed the House and will come to the Senate this winter.  Massachusetts has proposed legislation that is described as weak but a strong coalition is working to strengthen it.

New York is big and has several large groups working on labeling. Many likely allies there are very immediately involved in fighting the serious threat of fracking and its destructive potential. New Hampshire's labeling effort is facing stiff opposition, but they are pushing hard. Rhode Island and New Jersey are also working on labeling legislation. In all these states NOFA chapters are important partners in the effort.

At the recent NOFA Interstate Policy Retreat, Tara Cook-Littman who led GMO Free Connecticut, shared some of what she learned to help the other NOFA chapters put our law into effect.

Wider Political Efforts

Tara is also leading several related efforts. She and others from the amazing GMO FREE CT team have formed the national Citizens for GMO Labeling in order to raise money to help other state labeling groups with resources and advice. The cost for enough professional advice to make a big difference at a state legislature is trivial compared to the money spent on voter initiatives such as those in Washington and California.

Connecticut Families Against Chemical Trespass or ConnFACT will evolve out of GMO Free CT to address a broad range of related issues. Its mission is "To educate and inform the residents of Connecticut and their government representatives about the health, environmental, ethical, and economic issues related to toxic chemicals. To encourage and activate Connecticut citizens to become aware of and reject the toxic chemicals they are unknowingly exposed to every day and to use their collective voices to make their rejection of toxic chemicals known. To demand that our government officials stand with the people who put them in office and protect the citizens from the practices that contaminate the air we breath, the water we drink, and the food we eat."

It looks like ConnFACT will be a partner on the expected Connecticut bill to require Labeling of GMOs in infant formula and baby food (planned without a trigger), on efforts to extend the pesticide ban to parks and to ban the import of fracking wastes.

Just to keep things interesting, at the national level we need to be aware of corporate efforts to pass weak GMO labeling legislation or even legislation which would prohibit state labeling initiatives. The NOFA Interstate Policy Coordinator will keep us informed if these efforts start to move.

GMOs Knocking at the Supreme Court's door

CT NOFA is a plaintiff along with other NOFA chapters, farmers organizations and farmers in the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association's (OSGATA) suit asking the court to prevent Monsanto from suing farmers whose crops are contaminated by its patented genes.

Monsanto won in the New York Court, and in the Appellate Court in DC. The Supreme Court is now considering whether to take our appeal based on briefs from our attorney Daniel Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation, and from Monsanto's attorney.

You can read the press release from OSGATA about the approach to the Supreme Court and the background on the case. More here.

GMO Contamination

GMOs are a form of pollution with life of its own. The current situation makes the organic farmer create a buffer so her crops are not contaminated by her neighbor's GMOs (which can be planted right up to the edge of the property).  If her organic crops are contaminated with GMOs (or pesticides) and lose a lot of value, it is her loss with no responsibility borne by the GMO farmer or seed producer. Seems outrageous to me.

However, the USDA thinks that coexistence of GMOs, conventional, organic and identity preserved farms and crops is possible. The Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) has made recommendations and originally proposed a January 3, 2014 deadline for comments. That has now been extended 60 days until March 3. Visit for more information and to make a comment. 

The USDA's solution is for organic farmers to buy crop insurance, maybe subsidized by the rest of us, to protect against the severe financial and business losses that can come from GMO contamination. 

Our voices will be important if we want to hold polluters, and not those whose crops have been polluted, accountable.

Food Safety Rules Do Over

Thanks to all of you who submitted comments on the proposed rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, (FSMA). The voices of farmers and others were heard by the FDA regarding some of the farm aspects of the rules. FDA will propose new provisions. According to this notice "These provisions include water quality standards and testing, standards for using raw manure and compost, certain provisions affecting mixed-use facilities, and procedures for withdrawing the qualified exemption for certain farms."

We'll let you know when the new rules are available for comment. 

Big Fish and Little Fish

As more and more aspects of our lives are dominated by fewer and fewer ever larger corporations, it is ever more important that we work together if we are to continue creating the local, health-based food and agriculture system that's been part of NOFA's vision for over 40 years.

I look forward to our policy work in 2014 and to your participation.

Please contact Bill Duesing with your comments.


  1. But since the overwhelming scientific consensus world wide is that GMO crops pose no harm, this seems to be a waste of time.

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