Members of the Vermont Senate voted 28-2 on Wednesday for a bill that, if the Vermont House of Representatives concurs with the Senate’s changes, would make it the first state in the country to require labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The bill, H. 112, passed the Vermont House last year but needs to go back there for final approval of changes made in the Senate. Then, if House members give their final approval and Gov. Peter Shumlin signs it, which he has said he is likely to do, H. 112 would become effective on July 1, 2016.
Vermont’s legislation has no trigger clause like Maine and Connecticut, which have passed GMO-labeling laws but made them contingent on neighboring states taking similar action.
“We are really excited that Vermont is going to be leading on this,” said Falko Schilling of the the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, one of the organizations supporting the legislation.
“Today’s victory in Vermont has been 20 years in the making,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. “Ever since genetically modified crops and foods entered the U.S. food supply in the early 1990s, without adequate independent pre-market safety testing and without labels, U.S. consumers have fought to require the labeling of foods containing GMOs.”
H. 112 would require the labeling of processed foods sold at Vermont retail outlets and containing genetically modified corn, soybeans, or any other GMO ingredients. It would also forbid describing any food products with GMO ingredients as “natural” or “all natural.” Exempted are animal feeds and some food-processing aids such as enzymes for making yogurt.
GMO labeling of milk and milk products are not included in the version of H. 112 passed Wednesday; however, the bill requires a report by Jan. 15, 2015, from the state’s attorney general, in consultation with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, on whether they should be and the legal basis for the recommendation.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced a bill in Congress last week which would bar any state from taking the action Vermont appears poised to do. His “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” would prohibit mandatory labeling of GMO foods and also prohibit voters from proposing initiatives to do so at the state level.
Industry groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have banded together into the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, which has been fighting similar GMO-labeling legislation and voter initiatives in several states in recent years. They reportedly spent about $ 60 million against labeling initiatives in California in 2012 and Washington state in 2013, and both proposals were narrowly defeated.
Pro-labeling groups in Vermont say they expect industry groups to go to court to stop mandatory labeling legislation enacted by the states. As preparation, the Senate version of H. 112 includes $ 1.5 million to help pay legal defense costs, and the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition has already started a fund to cover such expenses, which some estimates put as high as $ 8 million should the state lose.
“It’s not just Vermont. This affects everyone who eats,” said Andrea Stander, a coalition spokeswoman. “Consumers all across the country have woken up to the fact that we’ve become an unregulated feeding experiment by the biotech industry. People want to know if their foods are made with these ingredients. This gives people the choice.”
Some scientists who have studied GMOs say there are no additional health or safety issues involved in consuming them than there are in consuming non-GMO foods.
“This debate isn’t about food safety,” said Karen Batra of the Biotechnoloy Industry Organization. “Our science experts … point to more than 1,700 credible peer-reviewed studies that find no legitimate concern.”
She said that all mandatory GMO labeling does is make farming and food manufacturing more expensive and complicated. More than 60 countries, including the European Union, now require such labeling.
Food Safety News