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Vermont Becomes First Mover on GMO Labeling

There are no conditions on Vermont's efforts to regulate genetically modified organisms: Unlike other Northeastern states, where GMO labeling laws are contingent on what their neighbors do, Vermont will go it alone when its law goes into effect in 2016. The bill passed on the backs of the local grassroots, but state and national groups have major concerns.

The debate over the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods has a new ground zero.

Vermont, home of Ben & Jerry’s (a company that supports GMO labeling and is making many of its products GMO-free), is on its way to becoming the first state to mandate labels on foods that contain GMOs.

The state’s legislature passed a bill on the matter last week, and the state’s governor, Peter Shumlin, says he’ll sign it into law. But not everyone’s happy with the outcome. More details:

A grassroots push: The bill found support from several local organizations. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont was among the many partners in the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition, an advocacy group that pushed the issue to the forefront. In comments to the Burlington Free Press, the association’s Dave Rogers assured the public that the group can keep up the pressure on the state legislature. “We have like a 20-year history of working on these issues,” Rogers said. “We have a whole population of educated activists.”

Could it cause complications? The Vermont Grocers Association, which is about to merge with the Vermont Retail Association, raised concerns about the bill to the Associated Press. It preferred a regional framework for GMO labeling—one that nearby states such as Connecticut and Maine have embraced. (Those states have passed bills to require labeling, but they won’t take effect until other states pass similar bills.) “[It] gets very costly, very confusing, and very difficult for the entire food industry to comply with,” the association’s president, Jim Harrison, told the wire service.

National groups want a national framework: Two national food-industry associations, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), say the issue should be dealt with at the federal level rather than by the states. The Vermont bill “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 GMA said in a statement. “We are currently in the process of evaluating the legislation to determine the best course of action in response to its passage.” BIO, meanwhile, suggested that costs from GMO labeling would be passed onto consumers. “The bill in Vermont is especially problematic because it puts these additional burdens solely on Vermont’s citizens,” BIO spokeswoman Karen Batra said in a statement to VT Digger. Both groups have opposed regional GMO labeling efforts, most notably in Washington state, and the GMA has pushed for a voluntary labeling framework at the federal level.

Vermont is known as a first mover on progressive issues. Shumlin was voted into office on a promise to enact single-payer healthcare, an effort that passed the legislature and is slated to go into effect in 2017.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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