After a groundswell of support from state residents fueled by grassroots activism, Vermont is on track to become the first state to require the labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“This is a victory for everyone who eats.”
A bill making its way through the Vermont legislature won preliminary approval on Tuesday when the Senate voted 26-2 in favor. On Wednesday, the legislation goes before the House, which previously passed a slightly different version of the bill. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin said he's likely to sign the bill should it reach his desk.
“This is a victory for everyone who eats,” said Andrea Stander, Director of Rural Vermont. “It is fitting that Vermont, where we take food seriously, is on the way to becoming the first state in the U.S. to require that genetically engineered foods be labeled.”
Bill H.112 requires that food sold in Vermont stores that contains genetically modified ingredients will be labeled starting July 2016. The bill also makes it illegal to call any food product containing GMOs “natural” or “all natural.”
During the vote, legislators acknowledged that it was the rallying cry of their constituents that pushed them to back the bill.
The Burlington Free Press reports:
Some senators who had been skeptical of GMO labeling said they were persuaded that their constituents want the information clarified on the food they buy. Senators said they were flooded with emails and calls from people urging them to pass the bill.
Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he, too, had been unenthusiastic about GMO labeling, but at every public meeting he heard from Vermonters who wanted a labeling law. “Lo and behold, GMOs would float to the top of the debate within those meetings,” he said.
“Today the Senate stood up for the vast majority of Vermonters who want to see genetically engineered foods labeled,” said Vermont PIRG Consumer Protection Advocate Falko Schilling. “Vermont is once again leading the nation by acknowledging the important fact that everyone has a right to know what they are eating.”
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that he is proud that his state is "taking the lead in a growing national movement." In Washington, Sanders has been pushing for federal action on food labels. Last year he proposed an amendement to the farm bill, which lost, that would have granted states the authority to require GMO labeling.
Unlike other New England states, Maine and Connecticut, which passed labeling laws that delay implementation until neighboring states sign on—in an effort to share the cost of a potential suit—the Vermont bill will immediately become law.
If and when the law passes, most assume that a lawsuit by large business interests would be inevitable. Proponents of the bill, however, say that the wording of the law gives it a good chance of withstanding such a challenge in the courts.
Recent efforts to pass similar legislation in Washington and California both failed due to an influx of cash from big agribusiness and food companies, including Monsanto, Pepsi, and industry lobbyists.
Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), hailed the vote as a win for the grassroots movement.
"Today, consumers and a number of principled legislators in Vermont made it clear to Monsanto, Coca-Cola and other opponents of consumers’ right to know," Cummins said. "We will not back down. This movement is here to stay."