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Connecticut's fearful lawmakers could learn a lesson from California

ElectionsJustice SystemConsumers

Oh those wacky California folks, always doing "first state in the nation" kind of stuff. At the moment, Californians are all whipped up over the first statewide ban on foie gras (that's fancy French for special goose liver created by force feeding a goose), an animal-rights issue that's not even on the radar in our Land of Steady Habits.

And when our lawmakers do have the chance to do something cutting edge, like requiring mattress-makers to recycle their used products or letting consumers know if their food is genetically modified, they almost always punk out.

Okay, we did get medical marijuana passed this year. But it's a limited and conservative system designed to be as far from California's "Wild West" pot program as possible, and we're only the 17th state to adopt some sort of law to allow the medical use of cannabis.

California, meanwhile, is rapidly closing in on its long-planned July 1 deadline for eliminating foie gras, a dish some animal lovers consider utterly hateful.

Admittedly, it's taken them quite a while to get to this point. The original bill was passed by the California legislature in 2004 but implementation was delayed until this year.

Chicago briefly had a municipal ban on this delicacy a few years ago, but local chefs organized a repeal movement that was eventually successful. (Some California chefs are now desperately attempting a similar pro-foie gras movement. If you've ever actually tasted foie gras, you might understand their angst over this whole deal.)

Here in Connecticut, it's apparently no big deal even for radical anti-animal consumption activists like Priscella Feral, president of the Darien-based Friends of Animals organization. Her group is dedicated to getting people to forego animals as food and adopt "a plant-based diet."

Feral says simply preventing people from force-feeding geese doesn't make much sense to her. "I don't know where that takes you," she says, pointing out that the goose would be killed for food one way or the other. "It seems like a road to hell."

"Certainly force-feeding a goose to fatten up its liver is disgusting, but cutting its throat is disgusting too," Feral insists. "If you ask me if the torture can be mitigated, my answer is no."

There is a lawsuit that's been filed at the federal level to force theU.S. Department of Agricultureto ban foie gras based on the idea that the fattened goose livers are a "diseased organ."

George Krivda, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, says as far as anyone in his agency is concerned, foie gras is a non-issue. "We know of no foie gras producers in this state, nor have we heard of any [proposal] to outlaw foie gras production in Connecticut," says Krivda.

We may not be into foie gras debates in Connecticut, but used mattresses and genetically modified foods are a somewhat different story.

Bills involving those issue were moving through the General Assembly up until the close of the 2012 session last week.

There were national headlines over the mattress proposal, which would have made Connecticut the first state to mandate mattress recycling.

Part of the reason for the concept is that it costs cities and towns a crap-load of money to dispose of used mattresses. State environmental officials estimate that Connecticut taxpayers are paying about $1.2 million a year to get rid of the 176,000 mattresses that are thrown out annually.

The plan was to require mattress manufacturers to take "extended producer responsibility," which means they'd have to have a plan for recycling the damned things before they were ever sold.

The bedding industry wasn't happy at all about this idea, wailing that it would "impose unreasonable costs and burdens on mattress manufacturers, retailers and consumers." Their spokes-people argued that what is needed is a federal plan for mattress recycling. (Can you imagine how long that baby would take to get through Congress, and what a wonderful campaign issue it could be?)

A modified version of the bill actually passed the Connecticut state Senate, but never even made it to a vote in the state House, much to the relief of the bedding industry lobbyists.

Legislation to force genetically modified foods never even made it that far.

Advocates like state Rep. Dick Roy of Milford thought Connecticut consumers should be given the same rights that people in Europe now have: to know how their food is produced.

That's totally unnecessary, according to Monsanto (the world's largest genetically modified seed producer) and the federal agencies responsible for safeguarding our food supply. They insist those genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are virtually identical to "natural" foods grown the traditional way and to put labels identifying GMO products would only confuse people.

Monsanto has a long and aggressive history of filing lawsuits to protect its genetically modified patents and profits. Lawyers for the Connecticut legislature warned that passage of the GMO labeling bill would inevitably trigger a costly court battle.

Our fearful lawmakers proceeded to cut the balls off the legislation, turning it into something as inoffensive to Monsanto as humanly possible, before finally deciding not to vote on it at all.

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