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Sanders Lends Support To GMO Labeling Bill

VPR/John Dillon

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders joined consumer activists on Thursday to call for mandatory labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms.

The labeling legislation is pending in the state Senate. An outreach effort by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group yielded 30,000 signatures in support of the bill.

VPIRG celebrated the end of its summer-long, door-to-door campaign on the GMO issue with a rally on the Statehouse steps.

Canvass Director Leah Marsters said a 60 person crew went all over the state to collect signatures.

“We have this map here that illustrates it, but we literally went to every single, town, village, city, gore, whatever here in Vermont,” she said. “As you can see, there should be a sticker on every town. If there’s not, it’s not because we didn’t go there, it’s because we ran out of stickers.”

The petitions call on the Vermont Senate to pass a bill that cleared the House last spring that requires labeling of food made with GMOs.  Sen. Bernie Sanders is a high-profile supporter and has introduced similar legislation in Washington. Sanders told the crowd it’s a matter of consumers having the right to know what’s in their food.

“Now the labeling of food is not a radical concept,” he said. “Go to the grocery store and you will find labels on virtually every food product. You will know whether there is aspartame in it, you will know how many calories there are in the food that you are eating. The truth of the matter is that labeling GMOs is also not a radical concept.”

Sanders said the European Union requires labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms. The Vermont bill is aimed mainly at processed food made from GMO crops such as corn or other grains. The bill exempts meat and dairy products. If the Senate passes the House bill, it will take effect after two other states pass a labeling law, or in 2015.

Supporters expect a legal challenge from the biotech industry. Sanders said his federal bill would add protection for states.

“I happen to believe that states do have the right to label the food products. But we are also working in Washington to make that explicitly clear,” he said. “But if you ask me, am I concerned about the power of Monsanto and other food companies? I am, and that’s why we want to make it very clear that states like Vermont, Connecticut and other states do have the right to go forward.”

Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, is vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He said the bill exempts meat and dairy products in order buttress the state’s case when it gets sued over the labeling law.

“Where we have some state jurisdiction has to do with the fact that there are studies now showing direct human consumption of GMOs may show some risk for cancer development, digestive tract issues etc. There is not the scientific evidence behind having consumption of animals that have eaten GMO product. That’s a whole other step away,” he said. “So really we are keeping the bill focused on that which we have the scientific evidence to support.”

The biotech industry says GMOs are completely safe. Opponents of the labeling bill in Vermont say it would deter biotech companies from doing business here and mislead consumers into thinking there was something wrong with food made with GMO products.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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