As much as 80 percent of the processed food sold in Vermont is a product of modern genetic engineering. An overwhelming majority of registered voters in the state want to to know which 80 percent, according to a new public opinion poll conducted for VTDigger.org by the Castleton Polling Institute.
The poll results show 79 percent of respondents support a law to require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. Vermonters’ support for what would be a landmark labeling law surpasses party lines, regional boundaries and differences in age, gender, education and income level.
Less than 10 percent of any one group is undecided on the issue.
The constituency showing the most opposition to the labeling law is Republicans, at 27 percent. Otherwise, no group reaches 20 percent opposition. Democrats show the least opposition, with just 9 percent.
About 83 percent of Vermonters under age 65 support the bill.
GMO labeling laws have been proposed in more than two dozens other states to date. Connecticut and Maine have passed legislation that would take effect if other states require labeling, too.
Vermont’s proposed law contains no triggers. It would take effect in July 2016.
Lawmakers and administration officials anticipate a lawsuit from industry groups representing biotech companies. The legal question will be one of free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. The freedom of expression clause protects free speech, and it also protects against mandated speech.
Opponents argue that the state’s interest in GMO labeling is not sufficient reason to mandate speech (i.e. labeling). Legal arguments related to interstate commerce also are anticipated.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said he is ready and willing to defend the law, which he estimates could cost upwards of $1.5 million for a victory. In the event of a loss for the state, a lawsuit could carry a price tag of $5 million to $8 million or more.
Nearly all food intended for human consumption would have to be labeled as possibly containing GMO ingredients. Meat would be exempt because it is already regulated under federal law; states therefore do not have regulatory jurisdiction over meat.
Milk also would be exempted, which has raised questions for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Sears, D-Bennington. He does not want an appearance of favoritism for the dairy industry. But no scientific link has been shown between genetically modified corn that most cows eat and the milk they produce.
Food sold in restaurants also would not have to be labeled.
Methodology used by Castleton Polling Institute
This report is based on data from 682 interviews drawn from a random sample of registered voters in Vermont. Interviews were conducted by phone by from March 31 to April 7, 2014. Thirteen percent of interviews were conducted with registered voters on cell phones.
For a sample of this size, the margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level is +/-4 percent, although the margin of error is larger for questions involving subsamples of respondents. Although sampling error is only one source of potential survey error, precautions have been taken to minimize other sources of error for this poll.