Vermont's new GMO-labeling law is a first

Vermont last month passed the nation's first GMO labeling law. The state's governor, Peter Shumlin, signed the bill May 8, tweeting, "Residents deserve to know what is in their food."

The Vermont law -- taking effect in July 2016 -- secured a bi-partisan vote the old-fashioned way. Legislators said they'd been won over by grassroots groups that had bombarded them with calls, postcards, letters and emails.

Vermont Senator David Zuckerman, sponsor of the bill, thinks the state's efforts over a decade paved the way: "The average Vermonter knows what GMOs are, knows what the spooky fear tactics are."

The bill's language targets contradictory research conclusions on GMOs as a reason to label: "There is a lack of consensus regarding the validity of the research and science surrounding the safety of genetically-engineered foods, as indicated by the fact that there are peer-reviewed studies published in international scientific literature showing negative, neutral and positive health results."

The foods that fall under the labeling requirement are mostly sold in stores where consumers would see labels.

These food are not required to be labeled:

• Fare served in restaurants.

• Milk, eggs and meat from GMO-fed animals. (The government regulates meat. The jury is out on dairy products from animals that eat GMO foods.)

• Alcohol.

No food sold in Vermont that contains GMOs may be labeled as "natural."

The Center for Food Safety says there currently are 63 active GMO labeling bills in 23 states, and 32 bills have been introduced since the beginning of this year. Two have passed, but with "trigger" preconditions: Connecticut's 2013 law goes into action only if four neighboring states pass similar laws. Maine's 2014 measure requires legislation by five neighboring states before it goes into effect. Efforts to pass laws in California and Washington state did not succeed.

Food-industry groups will challenge the Vermont bill. Vermont has established a website enabling contributions to a defense fund. The Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has said if Vermont is sued, "We intend to use all the resources at our disposal to support Vermont in its groundbreaking effort."

Bloomberg News quoted a Rabobank International analyst in New York: "The issue has started to move center-stage and will continue to gain momentum and prominence."


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