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Pols React as a Grass-Roots Movement Comes of Age to Force GMO Labeling

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Connecticut News page.

With a deal that revives a bill requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods, Connecticut's legislative leaders Saturday acknowledged a movement that has muscled its way from the scientific fringe to political mainstream.

Senate and House leaders announced a bipartisan compromise that is expected to make Connecticut the first state to require labeling of foods with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

It passed the Senate unanimously with little debate and was sent to the House, where the leadership promises final passage before the adjournment deadline of midnight Wednesday.

A week ago, the measure appeared dead. Then a grass-roots group, GMO Free CT, used social media to focus the movement's ire on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, whom activists deemed responsible for the apparent defeat.

Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said the outpouring made the difference, leading him to stand with Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, outside the Senate and announce a deal for passage with Sharkey and Malloy.

"We're very pleased that Connecticut will be leading the nation," Williams said.   

"It's an extremely important bill," McKinney said. "We both realized we had a commitment not to let it die."

Tara Cook-Littman of Fairfield, a self-described PTA mom and food blogger behind GMO Free CT, called the turnaround a pleasant surprise and a significant push for a labeling movement that has changed the food industry in Europe, but not the U.S.

"Honestly, it's incredibly important," said Cook-Littman, reached by phone. "This is going to provide momentum for other states."

The Senate had passed a bill favored by Cook-Littman's group, only to see the House pass a competing version on May 24 that advocates viewed as deliberately ineffectual. Both votes generated a reaction showing the movement's political muscle on social media.

Williams and McKinney, who counts Cook-LIttman as a constituent, each found themselves lionized on GMO Free CT's Facebook page.

"The day the Senate passed the first bill, over a million Facebook hits," said James Leahy, a former grass-roots organizer who is their Connecticut lobbyist. "I think the depth of their grass roots is unprecedented in my experience."  
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