Vermont legislators on Wednesday gave their final stamp of approval on a bill to mandate labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms within the state, now sending the legislation to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his signature.
The bill, H112, was approved last year in the House of Representatives with a 99-22 vote. Last week, the Senate voted 26-2 to send it back to the House for final approval and then on to the governor's desk.
Though it does not impact food sold in restaurants, the bill does require labeling of GM foods sold in Vermont retail outlets as "produced with genetic engineering." The bill also stipulates that GM foods may not be labeled as "natural," "naturally grown," "all natural" or other similar phrases.
The bill also requires that the Attorney General decide by January 15, 2015, if milk and milk products should be labeled in accordance with the law.
Departing from bills passed by other states in the Northeast, Vermont's legislation does not require that surrounding states pass similar legislation before it can take effect. Instead, the bill would simply be effective July 1, 2016.
It follows the introduction of national GMO labeling legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., that would establish voluntary GM labeling standards and require Food and Drug Administration approval of GM ingredients before they hit the market.
In addition, it would nullify any state law that makes GM labeling mandatory.
Supporters of Pompeo's bill say it's a better choice than 50-state "patchwork" labeling laws. Such laws, says the Grocery Manufacturers Association, would "do nothing to advance the safety of consumers."
In a statement late Wednesday, GMA said the Vermont bill goes against the benefits of GM crops and recommendations of the FDA, World Health Organization, American Medical Association and U.S. National Academy of Science, which all find that foods containing GM crops are safe.
In addition, GMA says non-GMO options are already identifiable.
"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 government therefore has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients, making HB 112’s legality suspect at best," the statement said.
The bill comes as a turning point for pro-labeling groups Just Label It and Vermont Right To Know GMOs, because if approved by Gov. Shumlin, it will be the first bill to pass with simply an effective date and no "trigger" clauses.
“With both the Vermont Senate and House passing H. 112 to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods and ingredients, we have reached an historic moment in the battle toward national GE labeling," a Wednesday statement from Just Label It said. "Vermont’s law will establish a precedent that other states are sure to follow."
Read the full text of the bill, H. 112, an act relating to the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering.