Vermont Is About To Become The First State To Require GMO Food Labeling
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Vermont Is About To Become The First State To Require GMO Food Labeling

After a number of false starts in other states, we'll soon find out what happens when people find out what's really in their food.

After a number of close calls, including failed legislation in California, Oregon, and Washington, it looks like labeling for genetically modified foods (GMOs) is finally happening in the tiny state of Vermont. On Wednesday, the House passed a bill requiring Vermont to label foods with GMO ingredients, and Governor Peter Shumlin is almost certainly expected to sign the bill into law.

In addition to labeling in Vermont, the law also pushes legislation passed by Connecticut closer to action. The law requires producers to "label genetically engineered food in Connecticut as long as four states from the New England region with an aggregate population of 20 million also adopt a labeling provision." Maine has signed similar legislation, but requires five nearby states to sign GMO labeling laws.

The Vermont labeling law comes with lots of caveats: It doesn't apply to meat or milk products from animals that have been given GMO feed, or to food served in restaurants. It does, however, apply to packaged foods and fresh produce. Up to 80% of grocery store packaged foods would need to be labeled, according to the Burlington Free Press, mainly because they contain GMO corn or soy. Any products containing GMO ingredients would not be allowed to use the words "natural" or "all natural" on packaging. If passed, the bill would require labeling to begin on July 1, 2016.

The GMO initiatives in California and Vermont were voted on by the general public, and extensive anti-labeling campaigns funded by companies like Bayer Cropscience and Monsanto contributed heavily to their defeat. (In the last 20 days before the California election, the pro-GMO camp spent an average of over $1 million each day on ads). But since the Vermont legislation will pass without input from voters, anti-labeling organizations will have to find another way to fight, probably through lawsuits. The legislation is prepared for that; it includes a provision for a legal defense fund that will receive up to $1.5 million each year.

Anti-labeling groups argue that adding GMO labeling requirements will be a costly burden for producers—and those costs will be passed on to consumers. "I’ve heard the proponents say many times that this is a simple measure, that it’s basically putting a simple label on your box of granola bars, but it’s not," explained Kathy Fairbanks of Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks (the firm that represented the anti-labeling camp in California), in 2012. "If they decide to add labels, that carries a cost, and if they decide they need to change out ingredients, that’s a massive, massive cost."

More recently, Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for Biotechnology Industry Organization, told the Wall Street Journal that labeling would force farmers, manufacturers, distributors, and grocers to spend more money on record-keeping and compliance, and that the extra costs would translate into higher prices.

Perhaps some companies will just stop selling their products in Vermont—a state of 630,000 residents—altogether. But if the legislation leads to a ripple effect, where other states work up the courage to enact labeling legislation, the GMO industry may be in trouble. The European Union has strict labeling requirements, and as a result, GMO foods are rare. We'll soon find out if Americans are as put off by GMO labeling as our European counterparts.

[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

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  • Based to my experience in Ukraine, where GMO labeling is mandatory, Vermonters have GM-Free water, sugar and other zero protein products labeled GMO-Free to look forward to :)

  • I wonder if those who think GE crops and derived food have ever read the science out of Europe:

    A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research 2001-2010

    Food Safety: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.”

    and from the European National Academies of Science Advisory Council

    "There is no validated evidence that GM crops have greater adverse impact on health and the environment than any other technology used in plant breeding...There is compelling evidence that GM crops can contribute to sustainable development goals with benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and the economy." EASAC (2013)

  • Of course GM food should be labelled. People shouldn't be misled about what they are eating in the foodchain. It's about basic standards being recognised by suppliers and consumers and everyone taking their part of responsibility with diet and the environment. Telling people food is "All-Natural" when frog DNA has been placed into a Maize to produce a hardy but non-reseeding strain has massive implications ethically, ecologically, and maybe even biologically. Even back in the 1970's, in the UK we were finding River Trout which were undergoing sex-change from the hormones and chemicals finding their way into the water from home sewage and land wash-off. Nanoparticles from washing powders or pesticides effecting fish or bees, growth hormones in livestock entering people, aflotoxin in dairy, vitamin enrichment, the negation of classic flavour for uniform presentation for market, highly waxed skin of fruit and veg. When you thing about it, food producers must be terrified!