Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, signed bill H.B. 112 into law on May 8.
“Vermonters take our food and how it is produced seriously, and we believe we have a right to know what’s in the food we buy,” he said. “I am proud that we’re leading the way in the United States to require labeling of genetically engineered food. More than 60 countries have already restricted or labeled these foods, and now one state, Vermont, will also ensure that we know what’s in the food we buy and serve our families.”
The Washington-based GMA countered that bioengineered crops use less water and fewer pesticides, reduce crop prices 15 percent to 30 percent and may help feed a growing global population. The GMA pointed out the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association all have said bioengineered ingredients are safe.
“Consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients have the option to choose from an array of products already in the marketplace labeled certified organic,” the GMA said. “The government therefore has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients, making this law’s legality suspect at best. In light of this fact, in the coming weeks GMA will file suit in federal court against the state of Vermont to overturn the law.”
Instead of a potential 50-state patchwork of labeling policies, the GMA favors bipartisan federal legislation in the form of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, HR 4432. It would require a label on foods containing bioengineered ingredients if the FDA determines there is a health or safety risk.
Under the Vermont law to take effect on July 1, 2016, if food for humans is offered for sale at retail in the state and is produced entirely or partially with genetic engineering, the food must be labeled to indicate that fact. Violators would face penalties and further action by the state’s Attorney General’s Office.
The bill also creates a special fund to support the implementation and administration of the state labeling law. The fund would cover costs and fees associated with challenges in court.
“The constitutionality of the GMO labeling law will undoubtedly be challenged,” said William Sorrell, Vermont’s attorney general. “I can make no predictions or promises about how the courts will ultimately rule, but I can promise that my office will mount a vigorous and zealous defense of the law that has so much support from Vermont consumers.”