House committee backs labeling law for genetically modified foods

House committee backs labeling law for genetically modified foods

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Partridge, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, announces the result of the 8-3 vote in favor of the GE labeling bill that she supported. Sitting next to her is Vice Chair Rep. Richard Lawrence, R-Lyndonville, who opposed the legislation.  Photo by Andrew Stein

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Partridge, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, announces the result of the 8-3 vote in favor of the GE labeling bill that she supported. Sitting next to her is Vice Chair Rep. Richard Lawrence, R-Lyndonville, who opposed the legislation. Photo by Andrew Stein

Vermont is one step closer to becoming the first state in the nation to enact a labeling law for genetically engineered foods.

The legislation, H.112, would give consumers access to information about what food products have been genetically modified.

The House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products voted 8-3 in favor of the bill.

Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, said after three weeks of “annoyingly contradictory” testimony, the committee was unable to determine whether there are “serious health consequences to these products.”

“We are only able to say there were … some unanswered questions about the safety of these foods,” he said. “A consumer needs to know so that he or she can make an informed decision about what products they are going to buy. If they know it’s in there, and they’re going to buy it, OK.”

The proposed bill defines genetically engineered foods as those created from organisms in which the genetic material has been changed via in vitro nucleic acid techniques or cellular fusion. Foods for sale in the retail marketplace that are produced “entirely or partially” using these methods, must be labeled under the proposed legislation.

Raw GE foods would require a label that says: “produced with genetic engineering” or “genetically engineered.” Processed foods that contain one or many GE ingredients would be labeled “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering.”

Under the legislation, GE foods could not be advertised as: “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or use any similar descriptions that “have a tendency to mislead a consumer.”

The statewide trade organization Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility fully supports the bill.

Dan Barlow, a lobbyist for VBSR, said, “Vermonters have a right to know what’s in their food, and right now GMOs are a threat to the Vermont brand. I think this move can only strengthen the Vermont brand going forward.”

Others have reservations about the bill. Margaret Laggis, who lobbies for the biotech industry, represents the groups Dairy Farmers Working Together and United Dairy Farmers of Vermont.

“Dairy farmers … know that the people who are pushing this consumer right-to-know bill actually want to ban the use of this technology,” she said. “And Vermont farmers have overwhelmingly embraced this technology as the only way for them to raise the quality crops, meet the Vermont quality standards, etcetera, on their farms.”

Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, who voted against the bill, is one of those farmers.

“For the first time in the last 30 to 40 years, we have some products out there that are really friendly to the environment, friendly to water quality, reduce the use of pesticides, reduce the use of herbicides, and all at the same time they help increase the farmer’s yield and the farmer’s ability to turn a profit,” he said to the committee. “For all of those reasons, I’m very concerned about this.”

Many dairy and livestock products, however, would not be subject to GE labeling, as the legislation exempts “food consisting entirely of or derived entirely from an animal which has not itself been produced with genetic engineering.”

The bill exempts a range of other foods, and Laggis questions the bill’s purpose.

“This bill has an ice cream truck size exemption for probably 60 percent to 70 percent of the foods Vermonters eat because meat, dairy, alcohol are not included, no restaurant foods,” she said. “We kind of feel like this is the largest, state-sponsored, consumer-deception bill we’ve ever seen.”

Falko Schilling, an advocate with Vermont Public Interest Research Group, says the exemptions are similar to proposals now under consideration in 20 other states and laws now in effect in dozens of countries around the world.

“What we’re trying to do is play catch-up with the rest of the world,” he said. “Look at Europe: They don’t require labeling of meat or milk from cows that have been fed GE feed. It’s also the language that’s been incorporated in the Washington initiative and in a number of states across the country, so (the committee) is just trying to be as consistent as possible.”

The bill, Schilling said, is based on Proposition 37, the California labeling law that was defeated by voters last November.

The Vermont bill would take effect 18 months after two other states enact similar legislation on July 1, 2015, or whichever date comes first.

But before that day arrives, the legislation is likely to hit a legal hurdle.

That’s why the law includes a severability clause. If any part of the legislation violates the Vermont or U.S. constitutions, “the violation shall not affect other provisions” of the law.

Seven Days reporter Katie Flagg reported earlier this week that leading advocates of the bill and Democratic Rep. Carolyn Partridge, who chairs the Agriculture Committee, anticipate a lawsuit. Partridge is a strong supporter of the legislation.

“I’m not intimidated at all,” she told Flagg.

Andrew Stein

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David Zuckerman
3 years 7 months ago
I am pleased this legislation is moving forward, and I want to address a couple of points that the opposition has made: 1) to Rep. Smiths point, Organic farmers have been farming in the way that do all that he has indicated: environmentally sound, feewr pesticides, in fact, NO herbicides, and profitably. So GE technology is not the first to allow that in 30-40 years. However, there are those that would counter that people should not be forced to grow organically. Nothing in this law would force that. I want dairy to be more profitable as well. GMO’s is not… Read more »
Jim Christiansen
3 years 7 months ago


Are you an advocate of banning GMO/GE agriculture products?


David Zuckerman
3 years 7 months ago
I do not think GE techology in our food supply is a good idea. I am also not 100% opposed to it. What I think we have right now is a system where we have had minimal unbiased research as to the human health or environmental consequences of introducing foreign genes into plants which can replicate and spread those genes far and wide. I would prefer that research be done without all of us and our environment being the guinea pig. But that genie is out of the bottle. I am an advocate for allowing consumers to chose through accurate… Read more »
Duncan Kilmartin
3 years 7 months ago
While I agree with the consumer’s need to know what is in their food, I believe, notwithstanding my deep and abiding concern that Montsanto and other genetic engineering behemoths are seriously endangering food chain security for the entire planet, that the House bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee misses the real and most fundemental problem facing us: allowing the patenting of life forms modified by genetic engineering, with no effective protections and restrictions by Congress or the federal Administration. Most simply put, we have lost our fundemental anchor point on life, and are adrift amid tumultuous seas far from… Read more »
Michael Gohl
3 years 7 months ago
Years ago, my mother-in-law and I would have “natural vs organic” discussions. To me it was rather frustrating that she assumed that most everything labeled “natural” was naturally good for you. I naturally felt that a product with natural ingredients might not be as good for the body as one might be led to believe, and that organic was a safer bet. Needless to say, the discussions continued. One day I asked my friend Brynar if he had any thoughts on how to convince her to think more in terms of organic and less in terms of natural. His suggestion,… Read more »
Scott H. Richardson
3 years 7 months ago

Earlier this year two CBC radio shows aired interviews with U.K. author and environmentalist Mark Lynas. These shows could be heard locally on VPR and NHPR.

Duncan Kilmartin
3 years 7 months ago

Michael, Your pithy comment is worthy of Michael, the Archangel. I can only add an “Amen”!

James Minnich
3 years 7 months ago
I congratulate the House Agricultural Committee on having the courage to stand up to the ruinous efforts by pro-GMO advocates to prevent Vermonters from knowing what is in their food. While the bill is severely weak, it is a start. This bill is not the end but the beginning for Vermont people in their struggle to have healthy food available to them and their families. Vermont is, by far, the healthiest place to live in this country. This is due largely to it’s large numbers of organic farms. Today, Vermont took a huge step forward towards insuring that the high… Read more »
Al Salzman
3 years 7 months ago
Once again the corporatocracy rules the roost, and their well-paid minions distort and confuse. The key to the GMO conundrum is individual intelligence and choice. 99% of the stuff in the supermarket is crap so relying on local sources of food is a good idea for the reason that you can ask the farmer about his methods. The strategy of food producers labeling their products as GMO free is, I think, a good one but it does not necessarily preclude a Monsanto law suit. I do not buy most canned goods because of the use of BPA as a liner.… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago
Glad to see that the House Agricultural Committee is standing up strong and protecting Vermonters from the potential risks associated with genetically engineering. The Government’s role is to protect its citizens from risks, whether those risks are man made or natural. Scientists from around the world have established that there are risks associated with GMOS, and in fact more than 60 other countries have established labeling laws and in some countries even stricter measures to protect their citizens. I am proud that members of the committee have voted to protect us rather cower in fear that a few industry folks… Read more »
Judith Persin, Registered Nurse
3 years 7 months ago
I agree with Robb. A state has a legal right (and I would add, a responsibility) to regulate industries that pose potential threats to its citizens. I don’t have to ask whether or not GMOs make people sick. They started making me sick in 2009! It took me two weeks to recover from a piece of apple pie containing THREE GMOs. When I found out the first culprit was “modified cornstarch” I began an intensive study which has never ended. Many people, because there is no labeling, are not as fortunate as I to be able to trace the dirty… Read more »
Judith Persin, Registered Nurse
3 years 7 months ago
Do you know that genetically modified organisms are not only in our foods? They are also in medications and in vaccines! You think you know what is in those? No, you don’t; because they do not have to label the components as “genetically modified”! If someone knowingly, but secretly, contaminates your food with disease-causing agents, would that qualify as an act of terrorism? If that “someone” deliberately puts those same items into the vaccines and then tricks the legislators through lies, false reports, and monetary gifts to push them onto your children saying it will improve their health, I ask… Read more »
Rita Wright
3 years 7 months ago

All the studies on rats showed physical damage after the 4th month of consuming genetically modified food. Each month equals 2.5 human years, meaning after 10 years humans will start to become sick. In the beginning (1996) there wasn’t 90% of gmo soybeans & corn being used. Now there is. It is only a matter of time before the effects are felt. Monsanto stops their own studies after 3 months…convenient.

Eric Hobart
3 years 7 months ago
Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "House committee backs labeling law for genetically modified foods"