Business & Economy

Vermont will be first state in nation to require GMO labeling

Vermont will likely be the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified organisms.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday he will sign Vermont’s GMO labeling bill into law. His announcement came just minutes after the House gave H.112 final legislative approval by a 114-30 vote.

“I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food,” Shumlin said in a statement. “Vermont has led the local food movement that is better connecting people nationwide with the food they eat.”

The bill would take effect July 1, 2016. Other states have labeling laws that go into effect when neighboring states pass similar policies.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, has been pushing for GMO labeling for much of his career in the state Legislature. Zuckerman was first elected to the House in 1996.

“Vermont has now put a stake in the sand around food transparency, and it may well help create that across the country, much as we did with marriage equality and other historic measures,” Zuckerman said.

There will be challenges ahead, he said.

“There is no doubt that there is a risk of a legal challenge by the food manufacturers. And my hope that they would rather comply with people’s wishes rather than hide behind legal arguments to keep their food opaque,” Zuckerman said. “To me food transparency is as important as government transparency.”

House Speaker Shap Smith said in a statement: “Every Vermonter has a right to know what is in their food. Genetically engineered foods potentially pose risks to human health and the environment. I am proud to be the first state in the nation to recognize that people deserve to know whether the food they consume is genetically modified or engineered.”

The potential for litigation was among the top concern lawmakers opposing the bill raised on Wednesday. Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who anticipates a lawsuit, estimated the cost of litigation at $1 million if the state were to win. A loss would cost $5 million or more.

That’s why the bill sets up a $1.5 million special fund reserved for defending the state in court. This money would be raised from state appropriations, private donations and settlement proceeds.

Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre Town, who voted against the bill, said Vermont should not pass a law it anticipates defending in court.

“What I do not support is Vermont sticking its neck out, again, all alone,” Koch said. “Frankly, I find it embarrassing and a bad precedent to have our great state pass the hat to support the laws we enact.”

The Vermont Attorney General has defended two high profile laws passed by the Legislature that have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, including a law restricting campaign contributions and another statute that restricted the resale of doctors’ prescription records. Both state statutes, the court ruled, violated the First Amendment.

The majority of commodity crops sold in the U.S. are genetically engineered. Corn, soybeans and cotton used in many packaged snack foods, sweeteners and cereals contain genetically modified organisms.

The biotechnology industry, which manufactures genetically engineered food products, opposes Vermont’s legislation.

“Any law requiring the labeling of foods that contain GMO ingredients creates extra costs for farmers, food manufacturers, distributors, grocers, and consumers,” said Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for Biotechnology Industry Organization, the world’s largest industry trade group.

“The bill in Vermont is especially problematic because it puts these additional burdens solely on Vermont’s citizens,” she said.

But Daniel Barlow, a lobbyist for the trade group Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said the bill will give Vermont businesses and retailers a competitive advantage in the region.

“Once Vermont’s known as a state where our food is labeled, people from New Hampshire, people from New York and people from Massachusetts will come here to shop for their groceries,” Barlow said. “Because they know that when they go in the grocery store they are going to have more information here than they will back home.”

Scientists disagree on whether consuming genetically engineered food products is harmful to human health, but proponents of the initiative say it’s about consumer information. Environmentalists point out that genetically engineered crops allow for heavy application of weed killers, and U.S. farmers this year are using more herbicides to kill off herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is pushing for federal labeling reform, congratulated the Vermont Legislature on Wednesday.

“I am very proud our small state stood up to Monsanto and other multi-national food conglomerates and is taking the lead in a movement to allow the people of our country to know what is in the food that they eat,” Sanders said in a statement.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 25 states have introduced GMO labeling bills this year.

“I do think that this is a model that other states can look to in passing other legislation,” said Falko Schilling, a lobbyist for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “This is really a start to a much larger movement across the country.”

Animal products would not be covered by the legislation. But the Vermont Attorney General’s Office will report back to lawmakers next session on whether to require dairy products to be labeled.

A VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute poll shows that 79 percent of Vermonters support GMO labeling.

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John Herrick

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  • Stan Hopson

    Mr. Herrick,

    Last I read, our new food labeling will state the ingredients “may contain” GMOs. So the hoopla about all the transparency in labeling is really

    People driving to VT to shop for groceries is laughable if I’m correct about the “maybe”. Just another dumb law getting us sued, but hip hip horray, we’re 1st!

    • Nicole Boar

      Is this true? That the new food labeling will state the ingredients “may contain” GMOs. ?
      That says nothing. A label on a box of cereal could say MAY contain $20.00 or gold coins. Would it? NO! That is a non label in my opinion. I read that if VT passes the guaranteed no GMO in food labeling, then at least 6 other states will follow. Seems every State is afraid of strong labeling due to possible Monsanto suit. Is this to pool monies from all 6 States in case of a suit?Why is this country so scared of a business?
      Why are individuals limited in how much they can sue a hospital or doctor, yet big businesses have no limit on how much they can sue a State? Can they sue the USA? Maybe. So do they run our Government? I thought the people of the USA run the Government.

  • James Rude

    What are the unintended consequences of passing a bill unique to Vermont, when other states hold no similar requirement? Most food products sold in Vermont are manufactured and packaged in other states before being shipped to your local VT market. There will be a cost borne by the consumer when the law requires identifying and labeling ingredients deemed to be GMO in origin. Also, because we are such a tiny market relative to neighboring states and the nation overall, why wouldn’t a food producer say, “screw it, we are not shipping our ABC product to Vermont”. Hopefully, we won’t experience one of these, “more state control, less choice” moments.”

    • Renée Carpenter

      “unintended consequences”…?

      Vermont food producers with non-contaminated foods might get a larger share of the market.

      The children of well-informed Vermonters who choose foods without GMOs can avoid numerous life-long health issues

      Adults who choose non-GMO-laden foods might avoid infertility issues, birth defects in future generations, allergies and other “undiagnosed” negative health effects, etc.

      And the less well-informed population who may choose a labeled product because they can may have healthier lives, into future generations.

      More food producers and farmers may choose to avoid GMOs to hold onto markets

      I forget the rising numbers of countries, cities, and counties who have banned GMO crops altogether (anyone have those stats?), but for farmers newly motivated to avoid GMO crops, they might find an expanded potential export market, if that’s their intention.

      AND Vermont may encourage other states to take similar actions, which may eventually lead to a full countrywide ban–with a multiplier of positive health effects for the public. (Did I leave out that eliminating negative health effects minimizes costs of health care? That’s a big one!)

      I’m no expert–those who are would have a longer, more explicit list.

      • walter judge

        Mr./Ms. Carpenter:

        You assert a bunch of imagined health problems. Please identify a single, credible, peer-reviewed medical or scientific article indicating that there are any human health problems from GMO foods.

        On the other hand, we can identify several that say there are none.

  • James Ehlers

    Now to require drinking water providers to test for the full suite of known contaminants and provide public notice of such. Nearly 900 drinking water violations among providers in Vermont last year.

  • Scott Richardson

    By now probably everyone has seen this.
    I found the above article at this site.

    • My brother died at 66 on March 7th after being diagnosed with Stage III multiple myeloma January 2011. One of the first things his oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute asked him was if he had ever worked on a farm. He hadn’t. He was an attorney working in an office high rise in a city in NE PA. His exposure to pesticides/herbicides came from at home use of these “safe” toxins including glyphosate/RoundUp, state spraying of malathian, etc. And of course eating glyphosate through unlabeled GMO/GE foods, and heavily sprayed Industrial farmed foods.
      Glyphosate has been implicated in multiple myeloma.
      The genetic Literacy Organiazation was founded by Jon Entine, also a consultant. He describes his ESG Media Metrics as: Media strategy, writing, speechwriting, and engagement with critics….We manage and create reputations.” Monsanto is 1 of his “elite” clients. Do your research.

  • A good friend of mine who grew up on a large scale dairy farm told me her parents would no longer let her drink milk from the bulk tank (which she had done since a child) after they started using BST, they began buying organic milk from a neighbor. Yesterday my appliance repair guy, a tough tattooed Vermonter started explaining to me why GMO corn was so bad. Seems he raises pigs and it screws up their digestive systems, I think he also said it gave them celiacs disease. I was quite surprised because this is a guy I normally would avoid discussing my personal opinions “liberal” food views with. But he brought it up. 80% of Vermonters think this is a good idea. Most of Europe has outlawed these for years. We really don’t need labeling, if it has corn, soybeans or cotton derived products (cottonseed oil) then your pretty safe. Besides the fact that we now have to spray more and more round-up to combat the ever evolving weeds, the farming practices this encourages just uses more and more petro based inputs. Read Wendell Berry’s book “Gift of good land” to really understand where this road we are on will lead us. PLUS the fact the these mega farms get 30 billion in Guvment subsidies , mostly to a few well connected corporations. Thats the same amount that we spend on education for the entire country.

  • I meant to say if you avoid products with corn, soybeans, cotton seed oil, plus I forgot to mention canola oil. Which if you to their own industry website shows you how they dissolve it with solvents , perfume it, etc. etc. I don’t think I would use it in my car.

  • Invisible GM Ingredients

    Processed foods often have hidden GM sources (unless they are organic or labeled non-GMO).

    The following ingredients may be made from GM crops or GM micro-organisms.

    Aspartame, also called NutraSweet®, Canderel®, Equal Spoonful®, E951, BeneVia®, AminoSweet®
    baking powder
    canola oil
    caramel color
    citric acid
    cobalamin (Vit. B12)
    condensed milk
    confectioners sugar
    corn flour
    corn masa
    corn meal
    corn oil
    corn sugar
    corn syrup
    cottonseed oil
    food starch
    fructose (any form)
    glutamic acid
    high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
    hydrogenated starch
    hydrolyzed vegetable protein
    inverse syrup
    invert sugar
    lactic acid
    malt syrup
    malt extract
    milk powder
    milo starch
    modified food
    modified starch
    mono and diglyceride
    monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    oleic acid
    phytic acid
    protein isolate
    soy flour
    soy isolates
    soy lecithin
    soy milk
    soy oil
    soy protein
    soy protein isolate
    soy sauce
    stearic acid
    sugar (unless cane)
    teriyaki marinade
    textured vegetable
    tocopherols (Vit E)
    vegetable fat
    vegetable oil
    Vitamin B12
    Vitamin E
    whey powder
    xanthan gum
    Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) although usually derived from corn, is probably not GM because it is not likely made in North
    Popcorn is NOT GMO. (Thank goodness.)

  • Here’s some real farmers taking about their experiences with GMO feed

  • Here’s a good google search about pigs and GMO corn…….0…1c..42.serp..0.0.0.Y6MyE81faJA

  • Catherine Cadden

    I agree the bill in Vermont is “especially problematic” but not at all how Karen Batra says but how she knows – that the bio-tech industry will not be allowed to continue their business as usual. This bill will not cost our producers, farmers, or citizens any more in the ways she and the bio-tech industry would try to scare us into believing.
    As I have stated before, in these days when money has had the greatest influence on government decisions, I feel lucky to have a state government that is working to create laws that not only protect people’s freedom and right to know what is in their food, but will not be told how to mandate what happens within our borders by outside influences like big corporations threatening lawsuits. They have made a strong bill that every Vermonter can be proud of because each and every person’s needs were considered including farmers, manufacturers, and consumers.

  • Lynne Gavin

    I’m very glad they passed the GMO bill, because I believe that GMO’s are extremely harmful to our health, but it will be two years, July 2016, before they are required to start labeling foods with GMO’s. Just think of all the GMO’s that will be consumed before this bill goes into effect.