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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 To Become Law

Angela Evancie
VPR File Photo
The House of Representatives voted 114 - 30 in favor of a bill that requires the labeling of genetically modified foods.

The Vermont House of Representatives  voted 114 - 30 Wednesday to require the labeling of foods produced with genetically modified organisms.

Proponents of the bill, including Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, argued that Vermonters have a right to know what is in the food they eat.

During the floor debate, opponents often agreed with that premise, but said they would vote against the bill because of concerns that national food producers would sue the state over the law.

The final version of the bill includes a legal defense fund if the state is sued by any of the nation's major food processors. Attorney General Bill Sorrell says it's very likely that there will be a lawsuit.

The defense fund will be financed with settlement money received by the Attorney General's office and the fund will also accept contributions.

Sorrell said the labeling case is comparable to two past cases in Vermont: A requirement to label products containing mercury and another law that required labeling of products containing bovine growth hormone. In the mercury labeling case, the court ruled that the labeling was justified. In the other case, it didn't.

"Is this more of a mercury case or more of a bovine growth hormone case?" Sorrell said. "And to the extent that the jury is still out on whether GMOs are in fact harmful to human consumption, our case will be much more challenging."

Despite the legal concerns, Rep. Teo Zagar, D - Barnard, said the House Agriculture Committee strongly supported the bill.

"This bill has been reengineered to be more resistant to legal challenge and yield a high level of approval among the overwhelming majority of our constituents who have demanded the right to know what's in the food they're being sold," he said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement that he will sign the bill into law. With that final approval, Vermont will become the first state in the nation to require the labeling of foods produced with GMOs. Maine and Connecticut have both passed similar laws, but those only go into effect if other states enact similar laws first.

From the Associated Press:

Maine and Connecticut passed GMO labeling bills before Vermont, but theirs take effect only if neighboring states follow along. Vermont is going solo with a bill that would take effect July 1, 2016.

Shumlin's statement:

I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food. The Legislature has spoken loud and clear through its passage of this bill. I wholeheartedly agree with them and look forward to signing this bill into law. There is no doubt that there are those who will work to derail this common sense legislation. But I believe this bill is the right thing to do and will gain momentum elsewhere after our action here in Vermont. Farming and agriculture are important aspects of Vermont's history, culture and economy. In this tradition, Vermont has led the local food movement that is better connecting people nationwide with the food they eat. It makes sense that we are again leading the nation in this important step forward.

Senate Pro Tem John Campbell joined Shumlin in endorsing the bill:

Consumers have the absolute right to know what foreign substances are in their food. This legislation represents a huge victory to achieve this end.

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."
Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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