Unlike bills passed last year in Maine and
Connecticut, which require other states to pass GMO labeling laws
before they can be enacted, Vermont's contains no such trigger
Vermont's effort comes as the developers of genetically modified
crops and the $360 billion U.S. packaged food industry push for
passage of an opposing bill introduced in Congress last week that
would nullify any law that would require labeling of foods made with
genetically modified crops.
GMO labeling is just one front in an increasingly high-stakes food
fight raging in the United States, where consumers increasingly are
demanding to know where their food comes from and how it was
"We have a growing food movement in which people are demanding more
transparency," said Michele Simon, a public health attorney and
president of Eat Drink Politics.
When it comes to GMO labeling, "the issue is disclosure of a
technology that people have real concerns about," Simon said.
Vermont's bill, approved 28-2 by the Senate, has already passed the
state House of Representatives. It now goes back to the House to see
whether members will approve changes made by the Senate. If passed,
the law would take effect July 1, 2016.
"We are really excited that Vermont is going to be leading on this,"
said Falko Schilling, a spokesman for the Vermont Public Interest
Research Group, which backed the bill.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there
are GMO labeling bills under consideration in 29 states.
Products made with GMOs are ubiquitous in the aisles of many U.S.
Some of the most popular U.S. GMO crops are corn, soybeans and
canola, which are staple ingredients in virtually every type of
packaged food, from soup and tofu to breakfast cereals and chips.
Organic foods do not contain GMOs.
The Vermont bill passed by the Senate would require GMO-containing
foods sold at retail outlets to be labeled as having been produced
or partially produced with "genetic engineering."
Andrea Stander, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Right to Know GMOs
coalition, said they expect the biotech industry to sue in an
attempt to stop enactment of the bill. As such, the language of the
bill includes formation of a fund that would pay legal bills.
Consumer groups say labeling is needed because of questions both
about the safety of GM crops for human health and the environment.
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The language of the Vermont bill states that foods made with
genetically engineered crops "potentially pose risks to health,
safety, agriculture and the environment", and should be labeled.
Last October, a group of 93 international scientists issued a
statement saying there was a lack of empirical and scientific
evidence to support what they said were false claims the biotech
industry was making about a "consensus" on safety.
The group said there needed to be more independent research as
studies showing safety tend to be funded and backed by the biotech
But GMO crop developers such as Monsanto, and their backers say
genetically modified crops, also referred to as biotech crops, have
been proven to be safe.
"This debate isn't about food safety," said Karen Batra,
spokeswoman for the Biotechnoloy Industry Organization. "Our science
experts ... point to more than 1,700 credible peer-reviewed studies
that find no legitimate concern."
Batra said mandatory labeling creates needless extra costs and
complications for farmers and the food industry.
A Monsanto representative did not immediately respond to requests
Ballot measures in California in 2012 and last year in Washington
state were narrowly defeated after well-funded opponents poured
millions into campaigns to defeat the measures. The opposition
included Monsanto, the world's largest seed company and the first to
introduce genetically engineered products, other biotech crop
developers and members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, an
industry group representing packaged food makers.
The Vermont bill also would make it illegal to describe any food
product containing GMOs as "natural" or "all natural."
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Ken Wills)
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