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Vermont GMO Labeling Law Heads To Governor’s Desk

The Vermont legislature passed a bill Wednesday that would make it the first state to require food makers to label products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Vermont House voted 114-30 to adopt a state Senate labeling bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he plans to sign the bill, whose requirements would take effect in July 2016.

While Vermont is one of the smallest U.S. states, the legislation marks a victory for activists who have campaigned for GMO labeling, saying consumers have a right to transparency over the widely used technology, WSJ says. Food and agriculture industry groups, which have lobbied aggressively to block similar measures in other states, blasted the Vermont decision, saying it was driven by faulty science and would hurt consumers.

GMOs are crops whose genes have been engineered to make them resistant to pests, better able to withstand drought, and otherwise hardier. The vast majority of corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are GMOs, and food companies estimate that about 80 percent of U.S. package food products contain GMO ingredients in some form.

There are currently 62 active GMO labeling bills in legislation in 23 states, according to the Center for Food Safety. Passage of the Vermont bill could create momentum in those other places, Rick Zimmerman, executive director of the Northeast Ag and Feed Alliance, an agricultural trade group based in Albany, N.Y., that has argued against the Vermont bill, told WSJ.

The food industry, represented by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has proposed a federal labeling bill, saying patchwork laws from various states would be too complicated. But its bill would only be enacted in the event that FDA reversed course and deemed GMOs unsafe for human consumption.

Connecticut and Maine have adopted rules that would require labeling if a specified number of other states enact similar legislation. While Vermont’s bill wouldn’t trigger those, it gets them closer, according to WSJ. Connecticut requires four additional states in the Northeast with an aggregate population of 20 million to enact mandatory labeling laws, and Maine requires five neighboring states.

The Vermont bill applies only to packaged foods sold at retail in the state that contain GMO ingredients and fresh produce sold in grocery stores. It doesn’t apply to meat and dairy products made from animals that consume GMO feed.

The move comes after, earlier this month, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) introduced federal bipartisan legislation that would ultimately prevent a “50-state patchwork” of GMO labeling requirements. That legislation would make mandatory a review by the Food and Drug Administration to certify the product as safe.

Currently, the USDA and the federal Environmental Protection Agency review proposed new GMO foods to assure that they are substantially the same as their traditional counterparts and do not pose a threat to the environment in terms of soil, water or air pollution. Pompeo proposes to make the FDA review mandatory before the product is commercially released and would require it to be labeled only if the FDA found reason that the public needed a warning about consumption—that it might in some way cause allergic reaction or other adverse effect.


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