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The New York Times reports this morning that the Vermont House of Representatives has passed a law requiring the labeling of products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their ingredients. The vote came about a week after the Vermont State Senate passed the same bill, and Gov. Peter Shumlin has promised to sign the bill into law, saying, "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."

According to the Times, "Though the move came in a tiny state far from the nation’s population centers, proponents of such labeling immediately hailed the legislative approval as a significant victory. Labeling efforts are underway in some 20 other states, and the biotech and food industries have been pushing for federal legislation that would pre-empt such action."

The story goes on to point out that "Connecticut passed a law requiring labeling last June, but it was contingent on several requirements, and Maine passed a similar law last year. Labeling will not go into effect in Connecticut, for instance, until at least four other states, one of them contiguous, pass similar requirements. And the combined population of those states must be at least 20 million.

"Vermont has roughly 626,000 people, census figures show, so food companies could simply stop stocking grocery shelves without much lost revenue."

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) immediately went into attack mode after the vote, releasing a statement saying that the law is "critically flawed and not in the best interests of consumers.  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.  We are currently in the process of evaluating the legislation to determine the best course of action in response to its passage."

Lawsuits are expected.

In its statement, GMA said: "“We encourage policymakers in Vermont and across the nation to support alternative legislation that would ensure that food labels are accurate and consistent for consumers. Bipartisan federal legislation, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, HR 4432, would require a label on foods containing GM ingredients if the FDA – our nation’s foremost food safety authority – determines there is a health or safety risk. Any labeling of GM ingredients would therefore be based on science, not fear or the varying politics of the 50 states."

Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, a biotech trade group, tells the Times: "Any law requiring the labeling of food that contain G.M.O.s creates extra costs for farmers, food manufacturers, distributors, grocers and consumers. The bill passed today is especially problematic because it puts these additional burdens solely on Vermont’s citizens without any added benefit."
KC's View:
The interesting thing about all this activity is that it suggests that there is a grass roots support for GMO labeling, which is what concerns organizations like GMA and BIO, not to mention specific biotech companies. They may feel like they are starting to lose control of the message, which is why they are trying to get federal legislation that will supersede any state regulations.

I continue to believe that GMO labeling seems reasonable, that it doesn't have to be punitive in nature, and that it can actually be a positive for the biotech industry if people actually end up being educated about GMOs.