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Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has signed into law a bill mandating labels on genetically modified (GM) food, making the state the first in the nation to enact such legislation. The May 8 signing ceremony took place on the state house steps in the capital city of Montpelier.
"The legislature has spoken loud and clear through its passage of this bill," said Shumlin. "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."
Despite the celebratory reaction of pro-labeling advocates like the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety, which called the Vermont legislation "a major victory," the issue has proved contentious, with food industry figures countering that GMOs are safe for consumption and don’t need to be singled out through labeling by individual states.
The Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), for one, characterized the Vermont law as "critically flawed and not in the best interests of consumers," as it "sets the nation on a costly and misguided path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will do nothing to advance the safety of consumers." The organization further noted that consumers who wish to avoid GM products could opt to purchase foods labeled "certified organic."
Coalition for Safe Affordable Food: FDA Should Lead on GMOs
Pointing out that the FDA "has found that there is no health risk associated with GM foods or any material difference between GM and non-GM foods," the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (which includes GMA) has noted, "Rather than a confusing state-by-state approach, … [t]he FDA should maintain its role as America's foremost food safety authority and, when food ingredients are proven to impact consumer health, they should use their federal authority to label foods with those ingredients in all 50 states."
The recent introduction of a federal food labeling bill set off a war of words between the food industry, which called the act "an important first step to restoring sanity to America's food labeling laws," and GMO labeling proponents, who dubbed the legislation DARK, or the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" act.
Further, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell admitted to National Public Radio that he expected food industry giants like St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world's largest producer of genetically modified seeds, to sue the state over the labels, which won't go into effect until July 1, 2016. In fact, shortly after the bill was signed into law, GMA revealed its intent to file suit in federal court against the state of Vermont to overturn the law.
Although, as NPR reported, Connecticut and Maine have already passed GMO labeling bills, their laws will only go into effect after a certain number of other states pass similar legislation, while Vermont is prepared to enact legislation on its own.
In other GMO legislation news, the New York Assembly's Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection passed a bill to require the labeling of GM foods, despite months of heavy lobbying by the food industry against passage.
"The vast majority of New Yorkers want to know what is in the food that they feed to their families, and … New York state is [now] one step closer to making mandatory GMO labeling a reality," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan).
Currently, more than 60 countries require GMO labeling.