House OKs GMO labeling bill, sets up Senate action in 2014

The Vermont House voted 107-37 on Thursday to advance a bill that would require the labeling of foods derived from genetically modified organisms.

The vote marks the furthest any such legislation has moved in the United States, and it pushes the bill to a third and final reading in the House on Friday. House bill H.112 was ushered onto the floor with the support of the House Agriculture and Judiciary committees. If it passes a third reading in the House, it would land on senators’ desks next year for the second half of the legislative biennium.

The one big exemption in the bill is for food derived or consisting of an animal that has not been produced by genetic engineering itself. This provision mirrors legislation in Europe.

No representatives on Thursday argued against the concept of more transparent food labeling. The most frequent point of opposition voiced on the floor concerned a likely lawsuit from the biotech or food industries that the Attorney General’s Office estimates could cost the state more than $5 million.

Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre, reasserted that he thinks the state would lose a lawsuit on constitutional grounds. He said the law runs afoul of the First Amendment by compelling speech, and it could pre-empt federal authority under the constitution’s supremacy clause by enacting a law that the Federal Drug Administration has not.

“Nobody else has passed a similar bill. They all seem to be waiting for Vermont to go first and lead the nation,” he said. “What they mean is they don’t want to risk their taxpayers’ money; they want us to risk Vermonters’ money. That is a $5 million to $10 million risk, and one I am not willing to take.”

Koch pointed to federal lawsuits the state has lost by enacting a labeling law for products containing the rBST growth hormone in dairy products and campaign finance laws.

Rep. John Mitchell, R-Fairfax, made a similar plea to his fellow legislators.

“For once, let others lead and we can follow,” he said.

But Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the House, heeded no such requests.

Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, chairs the House Judiciary Committee. The openly gay representative spearheaded same-sex civil unions in Vermont a decade prior. He didn’t back down from threats in 2000, and he said he wouldn’t back down from food industry giants now.

“When we passed civil unions, we were told that Vermont would be boycotted and that our tourism industry would die. When we passed mercury-labeling requirements, we were told that fluorescent light bulbs would no longer light the rooms of Vermont,” he said. “Now, we are told if we pass GE labeling, we will face losing our boxes of corn flakes and face empty grocery store shelves. Vermont should move forward and lead the nation once again. I vote yes, once again, without fear.”

Rep. Teo Zagar, D-Barnard, sits on the House Agriculture Committee and has been a major driver of the legislation.

“I want to believe that genetically engineered foods are perfectly safe and sufficiently tested and regulated for my sake and the sake of everyone else who consumes them … but I don’t,” he said. “I have a right and reason to know what I’m being sold in the free market.”

Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, is a third generation farmer in Vermont. He’s concerned that the labeling law would stigmatize technologies that improve yields and reduce herbicide and pesticide use. He said he’s also concerned that regulating and testing such practices would drive up the cost of food.

“Everybody should have the right to know,” Smith said. “We should be taking this labeling issue on the voluntary side, and saying for those producers who want to produce and manufacture a product that’s GMO-free, they have the right to do that. It’s already federal law they can do that.”

Further debate is expected Friday and the bill could receive fewer votes in its favor.

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, voted for the bill Thursday, but she is planning to introduce an amendment that would strip the legislation of its labeling language. It would, however, leave language in the bill that prohibits GMO foods from being labeled or advertised as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or use any similar descriptions that “have a tendency to mislead a consumer.”

Meanwhile, many people outside Vermont are watching.

Since the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill Tuesday, almost 2 million people have visited the Facebook page for Vermont Right to Know. The GMO-labeling campaign is organized by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, NOFA Vermont and Rural Vermont. It has the support of thousands of Vermonters and almost 200 businesses, including all 17 of the state’s member-owned cooperatives.

While no states have passed such legislation, more than 60 countries around the world have, according to the nonprofit Center for Food Safety.

Andrew Stein

Comments

  1. Kelly Cummings :

    The majority of Vermonters support the labeling of GMOs. And therefore, it seems to me, the legislators should listen to the majority on this issue as it directly affects each and everyone of us.

    If Monsanto is going to sue us well, I guess let them sue. Either way they have got us over a barrel. I say we stand together and let Monsanto know – we may be a small state, but we are not to be pushed around at their whim. We will not be intimidated. We will defend our desire to choose what we feed ourselves and our children.

    Who knows….Monsanto might just decide that you can only threaten people and states for so long until the PR turns against them. And people are turning against them. More and more people are becoming aware of them. It’s hard to keep secrets when everyone is watching. So if I were them….I would tread lightly. It might be time for Monsanto to rethink this sue happy thing they have going on.

    The majority of Vermonters support the labeling of GMOs. The majority then, most likely, supports the spending of our tax dollars to defend ourselves.

    I appreciate all the yes votes that were cast to support H:112. Thank you for having the foresight, the courage and standing up for our right to choose.

    Stay strong. Don’t sell us down the Monsanto River. Send this bill to the Senate!

  2. timothy price :

    Not only are we being provided with genetically altered foods, but also we are being contaminated with the residual herbicides that are used to kill the competing plants of the food product itself.

    http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416

    “Roundup: … glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body”

    A government, responsible to the public, should respond quickly to alert the citizens of these contaminated foods by requiring that products be labeled as made from GMOs.

    Vermont has the admiration of the nation for its honorable leadership among the states. There is a strong national tide against CMOs but no political backbone so far.. Vermont needs to act on this now.

    http://www.march-against-monsanto.com/

    This is a funny argument: “…the law could break the First Amendment by compelling speech..” Labeling of ingredients is required for ingredients already, and for good reasons. GMOs are no exception. On the one hand, Monsanto says that they are no different from natural plants, but then they fight to protect them through patents and lawsuits, therefor they are different. Any patented plant or animal ingredient should require labeling if it is included in consumable products such as foods or skin products which are absorbed by the body. People must be informed.

    • ALEX BARNHAM :

      Vermont really does have a lot of good people who love this planet and are willing to take a stand to protect it and all of the life upon it. I encourage all the inhabitants of this planet to come to a point of really loving it because we really have only one planet to live on in an ocean of uninhabitable galaxies. If we trash this planet, its goodbye apple pie and ice cream.

    • Karl Riemer :

      The contention that food labeling is compelling speech and therefore contrary to the First Amendment is absurd and, if sincere, demonstrates shocking disregard for what free speech is about.
      However, I think it untrue that patents and lawsuits distinguish GE plants from ordinary hybridized plants. Cultivars are routinely patented and defended, even if merely isolated from wild types.

  3. timothy price :

    The Democrats who support Obama should take some responsibility for this:

    http://www.sott.net/article/261646-How-did-Barack-Obama-become-Monsantos-man-in-Washington

  4. ALEX BARNHAM :

    The so-called “Monsanto Protection Act,” a provision slipped into the emergency budget bill that essentially exempts biotech firms like Monsanto Company from judicial review, is not what many have given their lives to promote. President Barack Obama is now doing his second term dirty work. Second term becomes nasty.

  5. Peter Harvey :

    I was at the State House all day and in the balcony of the House during the roll call vote. I’m new at this and it was very educational. It seems like a lot of posturing. The common argument I heard against H. 112 was that it would inconvenience businesses and otherwise cost them money. Is it the people’s government, or is the government there to protect business profits above the people’s interests? I doubt that any big companies will follow through on threats to take their boxes off Vermont shelves. It hasn’t happened in Europe. Even those speaking against the bill preempted their arguments with their personal support for transparency in what we eat. Their arguments seemed more like a fear/threat tactic. If corporations can prove GMOs really are better, those corporations should then use that label as a marketing tool. The biggest problem pointed out yesterday by those who spoke on the floor before the vote all is that GMOs have already slipped into 80% of the food we buy in the grocery store.
    Thank you Vermont House Representatives for putting Vermonters first.

  6. Most food companies already advertise their non gmo ingredients. If it doesn’t already say non gmo, it likely isn’t. Our company actually shows their lab results showing a negative test result. Consumers should look for this info as ultimate confirmation for the lack of gmos in their product.

  7. The politician said:
    ““I have a right and reason to know what I’m being sold in the free market.”

    So then the same right must exist for those who want to know if their organic food is made with ionizing radiation mutagenesis or chemical mutagenesis or other extremely DNA-disruptive techniques.

    When all breeding forms are called for then the bill actually gives people the “right to know”. until them it is a piece of legislation designed specifically to scare people.

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