House decides GMO labeling lawsuit worth the risk

The Vermont House this week became the first legislative body in the country to pass a law that would require the labeling of foods derived from genetically modified organisms.

The House voted 99-42 in favor of House bill H.112. The vote came after lawmakers defeated an amendment on Friday that would have cored the bill of its central labeling language and after a lengthy floor debate on Thursday.

Opponents of the bill took issue with the potential lawsuit such legislation would likely bring, and the more than $5 million the Attorney General’s Office estimates such a lawsuit would cost taxpayers. Other opponents took issue with how the bill could stigmatize technologies that are helpful to farmers.

But the will to move the bill forward was strong in the House. The prevailing argument voiced in the House was that a lawsuit is worth the risk, and a consumer’s right to know what is in his or her food outweighs the negative connotations such labeling might create for GMO crops.

Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, chairs the House Agriculture Committee, which crafted the legislation. Partridge said a Massachusetts woman recently called her to say that if Vermont passes this legislation she would start shopping in the Green Mountain State.

“We can all agree on two things,” Partridge said on the floor. “The first is that we have a right to know … what is in the food we eat. And the second is we Vermonters are making more critical decisions about what we eat … (and) labeling food produced by genetic engineering will give Vermonters a clear choice as they make those decisions at the grocery store.”

The bill is slated to hit senators’ desks in January, when the second half of the legislative biennium begins. A similar bill in the Senate garnered 11 sponsors, but didn’t gain traction in the Senate this session.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, was the Senate bill’s lead sponsor. The organic farmer on the Senate Agriculture Committee has been working on such legislation for a decade, since he first introduced legislation in the House when he was a Burlington representative.

“I think we’ve got a good shot,” he said about the bill’s passing next year. “It’s going to take work. It’s going to take citizen participation. I think other states taking action would help, but it wouldn’t be necessary.”

Washington has a similar law on its November ballot, and GMO-labeling legislation is moving along in other states, like Connecticut and Maine.

For more on this issue read:

How the bill moved forward on the Vermont House floor

Why the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill

What went into the House Agriculture Committee’s crafting of the bill

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewcstein

Comments

  1. Rick Battistoni :

    The producers of foods that don’t contain GMO’s should be required to label their products “GMO Free”. The consumer would have the same information and the majority of people don’t care.

    • mark howe :

      Monsanto would sue those companies for labeling their products as non GMO, just like they did to the milk producers when they labeled their milk from coming from cows not taking the bovine growth hormone and the antibiotics required to kill the bacteria in the bgh cow’s infected utters.

    • Shara Ross :

      There are many companies that do label their products as GMO Free (http://www.nongmoproject.org)

  2. Nancy Sobotka :

    To Rick…with the passage of the bill the producers of foods which do not contain GMO or are GMO free will do so. As a matter of fact there are several products doing so already. However, your comment that the majority of ppl don’t care is flawed. There is a disproportionate amount of ppl who do care what they eat, they try to buy fresh food but aren’t aware of the issues surrounding the food they eat. Sir I invite you to your local Farmer’s Mkt…or any roadside market…you will see the majority of the people DO care. If this wasn’t important why does Monsanto care? That, sir, should be your focus.

  3. Rick Battistoni :

    The majority of people do not buy their groceries from a farmers market or a roadside market. The majority of people shop at Price Chopper, Shaws, Hannefords etc. I invite you, ma’am, to any of the above mentioned stores to ask people whether they care if their food contains GMO’s. The majority do not care. That ma’am, is a fact.

    • What method of polling have you used to arrive at your conclusion?

      • Rick Battistoni :

        Gary, None. A poll is not needed to know that the majority of people shop at “supermarkets”. It’s like saying “the majority of people have credit cards” or “the majority of people drink coffee” or “the majority of people own a pair of sneakers”. It’s not necessary to do a poll to arrive at a conclusion.

        Bill, the “they’re just not educated” argument is bogus. There are many highly educated people in the world that disagree with your opinion. It IS possible to disagree with your opinion and still be educated.

        • mark howe :

          most educated countries in the world require GMOs to be labeled. We do not because of the power Monsanto has over Washington. The fact that there is a revolving door between Monsanto and the FDA is the main reason these foods are not challenged or studied. The people who rule on their safety are the same people that profit from them.

  4. bill robertson :

    they just don’t know. there needs to be more info. and conversation and research besides just monsanto owned reports.

  5. Mona Sims :

    So glad to hear this! THANK YOU!

  6. sandra bettis :

    well, if they don’t care, the autism rate of 1 in 50 for newborns will be even higher very soon.

  7. Dave Bellini :

    Legislators think this is “worth the risk.” WHAT RISK? The legislators who voted for this are risking nothing. I don’t know much about the GMO debate but I do know that Vermont tax payers have been taking it on the chin lately, losing expensive lawsuits due to the legislature wanting to make a political statement. Even if this law is popular with the majority of Vermonters(not sure it is)it is irresponsible to just throw money away. Reckless decisions that would get CEO’s and management fired in most places. Work to change the federal law and build support with other states. Please don’t waste millions of tax dollars AGAIN. I’d like to hear what legal experts say about the chances Vermont loses another lawsuit.

    • mark howe :

      What’s scary is that a corporation as powerful as Monsanto can dictate legislation with a mere threat to sue. Corporations are not only to big to fail now, they’re too big to go against. What kind of government do we have when government fears big business? A corporation who wants to monopolize seeds in the world, is too powerful and rich for a state to dare cross it.

    • Jason Voss :

      I understand your concern but I am happy to see my tax dollars go towards this effort.

      Should we back down in fear because these huge corporations are threatening us.

      The fact they sued before and want to sue again over this matter…. does that tell you something ????

  8. sandra bettis :

    you can’t decide whether to enact a law or not based on whether we might get sued – or not. i think you need to educate yourself, mr bellini, on how important the gmo debate is before you state your opinion. we can’t wait for other states or the feds to enact this very important bill.

    • Rick Battistoni :

      Sandra, it’s not a “very important bill”. It’s a vocal minority demanding that the majority comply with it’s baseless demands. I have a BA in Environmental Science. I’m educated. You might try using a capital letter to establish some level of legitimacy.

      • Jason Voss :

        “I have a BA in Environmental Science. I’m educated.”

        This makes you an expert? In what?

        “You might try using a capital letter to establish some level of legitimacy.”

        Proper punctuation and grammar signify legitimacy? Since when?

        Instead of tooting your own horn and ignoring an argument because the first letter wasn’t capitalized, how about making a real argument backed by…anything? Or are you just a shill for Monsanto? Or are you just ignorant and possibly bored?

        It’s not baseless for people to want to know what they are putting into their bodies, especially when there is a complete lack of proof that doing so is safe. There is, however, quite an extensive body of research out there proving just how dangerous these things can be not only to human health but to the environment.

        I suggest you spend a little more time researching if you are truly interested in making a case against this bill. Anyone can spout nonsense.

  9. Constance Brown :

    Let us assume 1)GMO’s are safe, and 2) the public does not care if they are in food. Why would anyone object to putting their presence on the label of a can of soup?

    But what if either or both of those assumptions is false? Would that cause the food and chemical industries to fight labeling tooth and nail?

    • Dennis Shanley :

      Thank you Constance Brown for posting the most succinct and logically bulletproof argument for GMO Labeling I have ever come across!

    • Patrick Cashman :

      Let’s apply that same logic throughout our food industry.

      While I am actually all for the use of science to increase yields so that everyone has enough to eat at a price they can afford, what I am not okay with is faecal contamination of food. Many food producers allow food we consume everyday to come into contact with faeces on a regular basis, which they maintain increases yields. However I believe that if my food came into contact with faeces I have the right to know that and from which animal species specifically. Ideally, from which animal so that I know the medical history of that animal whose faeces contacted the food I am putting in my mouth. So let’s require those who allow food to contact faeces to clearly label their product, and this way those who choose a different route can clearly label their product as “100% Faeces Free”.

      Now some might maintain that the use of manure is an established farming practice. But I need only say that if 1)faeces is safe, and 2) the public does not care if faeces contacts their in food. Why would anyone object to listing possible faeces exposures on the label of a can of soup?

      • Peter Liston :

        This is essentially what the USDA and the FDA do. They inspect food to make sure that they do not contain too many contaminants.

        Nutritional information is also required on food packaging.

  10. Dave Stevens :

    Yeah, Rick has a point. It seems that we’re walking directly into a lawsuit while fully understanding that its going to be an uphill battle. And for what? To make a statement against Genetically modified foods? I do most of my grocery shopping at the Hunger Mtn food coop and consider myself a fairly conscientious shopper, and even I can see the negatives associated with the GMO bill.

    • Jason Voss :

      For what? For our right to know what we are putting into our bodies. You have no problems eating GMOs? Go ahead and eat them. No one is trying to take that away from you.

      I however don’t want to put any GMO products into my body and avoid them at all costs.

      There are plenty of studies already proving their harmful effects in the short and medium term. There is nothing proving their safety in any term, on human health or the environment.

      Don’t take my word for it, go do some research.

  11. Yay, we have successfully outsourced and privatized tyranny if we let monsanto choose for us what we know and what we don’t know about what we put in our bodies. Companies can not decide what we like or choose. period. If they have issue about stigmatism of brand then they can do their job and educate and correct the problem on company time and dime. You can’t tell the country to like or accept a product by legislating ignorance of the product.

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