The Vermont Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to legislation that will require manufacturers to label foods with genetically engineered raw ingredients.
If H.112 is enacted, Vermont will be the first state in the nation to require labeling of genetically modified organisms. The law would go into effect on July 1, 2016.
GMOs are used in more than 80 percent of processed foods – such as sweeteners, cereals, oils and snack foods – according to federal regulators.
The effect of GMOs on human health is unclear, but Vermont lawmakers say the bill is about a consumer’s right to know what they purchase.
“It’s about consumer information. Period,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, the lead sponsor of the Senate’s bill.
Though scientists disagree on the health-related impacts of consuming GMOs, Zuckerman, who is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, pointed to their alarming impacts on industrial agriculture.
In some areas of the country, farmers who use the weedkiller Roundup are seeing the rapid growth of herbicide-resistant weeds. In Tennessee, farmers will pay about $120 billion for stronger (and more) herbicides this year, he said.
“And there is no question that the increased use of those herbicides will have an environmental impact,” Zuckerman said. “So if as a consumer you’re concerned about the long-term health of our nation’s soils, water, flora and fauna … then that could be a decision as to why you don’t want to buy a GMO product.”
The bill includes exemptions for animal products, but asks the Attorney General to report back to lawmakers with a recommendation whether to label dairy products containing GMOs.
“Ideally, as a consumer, I would like the labeling on a broader range of products,” Zuckerman said. “(But) I didn’t want to lose the bill on legal grounds because of my wishes. I wanted to get through what we can do that is defensible.”
Bill Sorrell, the Vermont Attorney General, anticipates constitutional challenges from biotech industry. The bill sets up a $1.5 million special fund for legal challenges funded through private donations, state appropriations, and settlements. Sorrell estimates it would cost $1 million to win a case, but if the state lost, the cost could be $5 million or more.
Zuckerman said members of the House generally supported the Senate’s version of the bill.
Rep. Teo Zagar, D-Barnard, who serves on the Agriculture Committee, played an active role in moving the bill through the House last year.
“I’m quite satisfied with what the Senate has done,” Zagar said.
He expected the Senate to keep a trigger in place that would enact the law sooner if other states passed similar policies.
“But I was pleasantly surprised that they kept it open and kept it with a date certain,” he said. “I’m pleased with it.”