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.
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