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How Grassroots Advocates Beat the Biotech and Food Lobbies

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

This week, Connecticut won the honor of becoming the first state to pass a law requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled. (The governor has indicated he will sign.) It was really only a matter of time. The disappointing defeat of Prop 37 last fall in California (thanks to a massive industry disinformation campaign) sparked a national movement that has resulted in labeling bills getting introduced in about half the states.

But how did the small state of Connecticut make this happen?

I spoke at length with the leader of the effort, Tara Cook-Littman of GMO Free CT, who worked for the past two years as a volunteer. (See the group's impressive list of coalition partners.)

She said for a long time efforts to pass labeling bills went nowhere, but things started to change two years ago once advocates formally organized themselves. While at first she and others "were dismissed as a bunch of crazy moms and environmentalists," things started to pick up last year "when advocates were able to show themselves to be a serious movement with political power."

What about the opposition? Cook-Littman said it was formidable, and that industry made all the same fear-mongering arguments we heard last year during Prop 37 in California about higher food prices and confusing consumers.

She and others suspect the biotech industry was funneling money through the trade group the Connecticut Food Association, which represents retailers and wholesalers. Also in opposition was the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the national trade group for food makers, which firmly stated its opposition to Prop 37 last year, calling it the organization's "single-highest priority."

In addition, Cook-Littman told me about the front group industry formed to oppose the bill, "Connecticut Farm to Food." (For more about front groups, see my recent report.) This group's home page claims boldly if inexplicably, "Forced labeling will drive business and science out of Connecticut." Listed as sponsors are three groups: The Council for Biotechnology Information (a trade group for the biotech industry; its website is whybiotech.com), the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, and the previously mentioned Grocery Manufacturers Association. In other words, two of these three groups behind this "Connecticut" organization are based in Washington DC.    


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