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Testimony by Michael Hansen in support of Connecticut bill HB 5300

Testimony on HB 5300 Act Concerning the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms in
Children’s Food, Before the Connecticut Committee on Children
Michael Hansen, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, Consumers Union
Hartford, CT
March 3, 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony today on Bill 5300, an Act Concerning the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms in Children’s Food.  My name is Michael Hansen and I am a biologist at Consumers Union[1] (CU), the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, which is located in Yonkers, NY.  I have worked on the issue of genetically engineered (GE) foods for more than 20 years and have been involved in the decisions/debate about these foods at the state, national and international levels.

The Connecticut genetically engineered food labeling law, Public Act 13-183, passed in 2013, was an important and groundbreaking piece of legislation, but had a trigger clause, which delays implementation until a total of five states in the region, with a total population of over 20 million, also pass such laws. The present bill, HB 5300, would just be restricted to labeling children’s food produced use genetic engineering (GE) but does not have a trigger clause. CU believes that all food, not just children’s food, should be labeled for presence of genetic engineering (GE).  Consequently, we support amending HB 5300, so that it covers all food, and does not include a trigger clause,

There is new urgency for labeling of genetically engineered food.  Last year, 17 experts from 11 countries, brought together by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for the Research on Cancer (IARC), unanimously concluded that glyphosate, an herbicide previously thought to be relatively benign by pesticide regulators, was “probably carcinogenic to humans” (e.g. Group 2A).[2]  Of the 17 experts involved in this decision, two were from the US EPA, one from the US National Institute of the Environmental Health Sciences, and one was from California EPA.  The Chair of the Committee was Dr. Aaron Blair[3], who, prior to retiring, lead the occupational cancer unit at the National Cancer Institute for 30 years.  Just last month, a number of scientists published a review article on the toxicity of glyphosate, noting the many data gaps and calling for further study, concluding “A thorough and modern assessment of GBH toxicity will encompass potential endocrine disruption, impacts on the gut microbiome, carcinogenicity, and multigenerational effects looking at reproductive capability and frequency of birth defects.”[4]

These findings, that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic in humans, and that it may cause other adverse health effects, are important since the virtually all GE food crops have been engineered to withstand the weed killer glyphosate.  As a result, as acreage in GE crops has expanded, so has glyphosate use.  In the period between 1996 and 2011, during which GE crops were introduced into U.S. agriculture, herbicide use was greatly increased.[5]  In 1995 some 20 million pounds of glyphosate were used in US agriculture; by 2012 that figure had increased, more than ten times over, to an estimated 280 million pounds.[6]  This drastic increase in glyphosate use has almost certainly increased the residues on food.  Although the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program doesn’t collect data on glyphosate residues in foods, one study that did look, published in the journal Food Chemistry, found glyphosate residues in all the samples of soy they tested, which were from ten different farms growing GE soy in Iowa.[7]  Labeling of GE foods would allow consumers concerned about potential residues to minimize their glyphosate exposure.

If Connecticut is concerned about whether their GE labeling bill would hold up in court, the decision of the US District Court for the District of Vermont should be very reassuring.   The Court turned down the request of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and their allies for an injunction against Vermont’s mandatory GE labeling law, ruling against three often cited objections to labeling.[8]  The Court decided that labels such as “produced with genetic engineering,” or “partially produced with genetic engineering” do not violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, are not preempted by federal law, and do not violate the First Amendment rights of the companies producing GE foods.  The court also dismissed the idea that the GE labeling bill is only based on a desire to gratify consumer curiosity.  Indeed, the court stated that the “(T)he safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious belief and practices are all quintessential government interests, as is the State’s desire ‘to promote informed consumer decision-making.’”[9]  As for the argument that GE labels are “political speech,” or that they are “controversial,” the Court disagreed and noted that the GE disclosure requirement “remains a factual disclosure regarding a food product’s ingredients made in conjunction with the purchase and sale of food.”[10]

We urge to amend HB 5300 so that it covers all food, not just ones for children, and does not have a trigger clause. In poll after poll, some 90 percent of consumers say they want these foods labeled.  Indeed, 64 foreign countries, including all our major trading partners, require labeling of genetically engineered food.  We label juice from concentrate, food that is frozen and irradiated, and milk that is pasteurized.  Labeling of genetically engineered food is overdue.  We therefore urge you to an amended version of HB 5300, and require labeling for all genetically engineered food sold in the state.


[1] Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union works for telecommunications reform, health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues. Consumer Reports, a non-profit, is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization.  Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.

[2] Guyton KZ, Loomis D, Grosse Y et al.  2015.  Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate.  Lancet Oncology, At:  http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045%2815%2970134-8/abstract

[3] IBID

[4] Pg. 10 in Myers PM, Antoniou MN, Bloomberg B et al.  2016.  Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement.  Environmental Health, 15:19.  At: http://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-016-0117-0

[5] Benbrook, CM.  2012.  Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S.—the first 16 years.  Environmental Sciences Europe, 24:24. At: http://www.enveurope.com/content/pdf/219047152424.pdf

[6] US Geologic Service.  Pesticide National Synthesis Project.  At: http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/pnsp/usage/maps/show_map.php?year=2005&map=GLYPHOSATE&hilo=L

[7] Bøhn T, Cuhra M, Traavik T, Sanden M, Fagan J and R Primicerio.  Compositional differences in soybeans on the market:  glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans.  Food Chemistry 153: 207-215.  At: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613019201

[8] Grocery Manufacturers Association et al. v William Sorrell, Peter Shumlin, Tracy Dolan and James Reardon.  2015.  Case No. 5:14-cv-117.  OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION.  At: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/vermont-decision_81793.pdf

[9] Pp. 63-64 in IBID.

[10] Pg. 54 in IBID.