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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

GMO Labeling Bill Moves To Full Senate

Legislation that would make Vermont the first state in the country to require the labeling of food products that contain genetically modified organisms is moving its way through the Senate.

The Senate and House are taking different approaches to this bill.

The Senate Judiciary committee this week gave its unanimous support to this legislation.  Under the bill, all food products that contain GMOs would have to be labeled beginning in July of 2016.

When the House gave its approval to this legislation last session, it specified that the bill would not go into place unless a number of other states passed similar proposals.

There was concern that some of the large food conglomerates would file a lawsuit over the bill and having a group of states involved in the legal defense would help lower expenses. But the Senate bill doesn’t contain this trigger mechanism.

"I feel extremely comfortable with defending this case." - Senate President John Campbell on the threat of a lawsuit over the GMO labeling bill

Senate President John Campbell strongly supports the bill and Campbell views the legislation as a consumer right know issue.

“In today’s society especially with the emergence of all different maladies that are kind of identified,” said Campbell. “That we should know what are the things that we are eating.”

Campbell says the Senate bill doesn’t include the multi -state trigger because he’s confident that Vermont will win the lawsuit if the food producers sue the state.

“I think that the standard that would be used by the court would be does the state have a legitimate interest in creating this law?” said Campbell. “And I’ll tell you, I feel extremely comfortable with defending this case.”

To protect taxpayers from a multi million dollar defense fund, Campbell says an arrangement has been worked with Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

“Just to make sure that the taxpayers are not looking at taking a hit if this does,” said Campbell. “What we’ve done instead of putting triggers in there we’ve said that we are taking any of suits that the Attorney General’s office or any enforcement actions that the Attorney General’s office has for the next two years will be going into a special fund.”

Critics of the legislation argue that the bill is unconstitutional and unnecessary because they say there’s no definite proof that GMOs are harmful to human health.

They also point to a statement by the federal Food and Drug Administration that concludes that there is essentially no difference between GMO and GMO-free food products.

The bill should be on the Senate floor for debate in the next week or two.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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