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Organic Consumers Association

Vermont Senate Votes 26-2 for GMO Labeling

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MONTPELIER - The Senate gave a decisive 26-2 vote Tuesday for a bill that would require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, a strong indication that Vermont could become the first state in the nation to enact such a law.

"We are saying people have a right to know what's in their food," said Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor.

Campbell and other supporters argued that they believe they have written a bill that is legally defensible. They nonetheless created a fund in the legislation to help pay the state's legal bills, as many assume that food manufacturers will sue.

The bill would require food sold in Vermont stores that contain genetically modified ingredients to be labeled starting July 2016. The legislation is up for another vote in the Senate Wednesday before it goes back to the House, which passed a slightly different version last year. Gov. Peter Shumlin has indicated he's likely to sign the bill.

Two other states - Connecticut and Maine - have passed labeling laws, but both delayed implementation until neighboring states join them, a strategy designed to insulate them from being sued. Voters in Washington and California defeated labeling measures there.

Supporters said they hoped Vermont would lead the way on the issue. "Vermont's always first," said Will Allen, an organic farmer from Fairlee, citing the state's ban on slavery, passage of civil unions and same-sex marriage as other firsts.

Many foods, including an estimated 88 percent of the corn crop in the United States, contain ingredients that have plants or animals that were genetically modified, typically to increase disease resistance or extend shelf life. Opponents argue that the process may be harmful to humans. Supporters contend there is no evidence of that. Sixty countries, including the European Union, require labeling.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, noted as he introduced the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday that questions remain about the safety of the genetically modified foods because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relies on testing done by the food producers rather than independent sources.

Sens. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, and Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, were the only votes of dissent Tuesday.


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