Food safetyVermont mandates labeling of foods containing GMOs

Published 25 April 2014

On Wednesday, legislators in Vermont passed a billrequiring the labeling of foods which contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), making the state the first in the United States to pass such a law without contingencies. Proponents of the law, and of similar attempts across the country, hailed the legislative approval as a victory. About twenty other states have pending measures regarding labeling GMO-based foods, but the biotech and food industries have been lobbyingfederal legislators to prevent such measures.

On Wednesday, legislators in Vermont passed a bill requiring the labeling of foods which contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), making the state the first in the United States to pass such a law without contingencies. Proponents of the law, and of similar attempts across the country, hailed the legislative approval as a victory. About twenty other states have pending measures regarding labeling GMO-based foods, but the biotech and food industries have been lobbyingfederal legislators to prevent such measures.

 “This is a historic day for the people’s right to know,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group that helped draft the Vermont legislation, said in a statement. Governor Peter Shumlin agreed to sign the bill into law despite his initial reservations about the measure. “There is no doubt that there are those who will work to derail this common-sense legislation,” he said in a statement. “But I believe this bill is the right thing to do and will gain momentum elsewhere after our action here in Vermont.”

The New York Times reports that more than 90 percent of the U.S. corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets — from which most of the nation’s sugar is derived — are grown from seeds with GMOs, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that 80 percent of foods in grocery stores contain ingredients made from GMO-based crops.

According to the Vermont law, which takes effect July 2016, products containing ingredients like canola oil, soy lecithin, dextrose, and sorbitol would have to be labeled.

Vermont, with a small population of 626,000 people and the new law, could see major food manufacturers simply stop supplying grocery stores in the state instead of re-labeling their products, but the passage of similar laws in other states could disrupt the food industry’s bottom line.

Connecticut passed a law in 2013 requiring labeling, but it was contingent on several requirements, and Maine passed a similar law in the same year. Labeling will not go into effect in Connecticut until at least four other states, one of them contiguous, pass a similar law, and the law stipulates that the combined population of those four states must be at least twenty million.

The biotech industry and major food manufacturers insist that labeling GMO-based foods would result in complicating packaging and production for food companies. “Any law requiring the labeling of food that contain G.M.O.s creates extra costs for farmers, food manufacturers, distributors, grocers and consumers,” said Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, a biotech trade group. “The bill passed today is especially problematic because it puts these additional burdens solely on Vermont’s citizens without any added benefit.”

BIO and other trade groups have drafted a federal legislation which would assign the Food and Drug Administration the responsibility to decide whether to require GMO labels on foods.

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