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Vermont House of Representatives gives green light to GMO labeling bill

4 commentsBy Elaine WATSON , 10-May-2013
Last updated on 30-May-2013 at 16:00 GMT

H112 does not require meat from animals fed genetically engineered feed to be labeled.  However, it does includes some of the controversial clauses in Californian GMO labeling initiative Prop 37, including the stipulation that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients cannot be marketed as ‘natural’.

H112 does not require meat from animals fed genetically engineered feed to be labeled. However, it does includes some of the controversial clauses in Californian GMO labeling initiative Prop 37, including the stipulation that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients cannot be marketed as ‘natural’.

The Vermont House of Representatives has passed H.112, a bill requiring the labeling of all genetically engineered (GE) food sold in Vermont. However, there are plenty of hurdles ahead.

First, the bill must be approved in the Senate , which will not now likely get the opportunity to look at it until January 2014.

If it is approved by the Senate, it will then be effective two years after the date it is passed, or 18 months after at least two other states adopt similar bills, whichever comes first.

Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at the Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said the vote represented a “major victory” for consumers, while Just Label It campaign also applauded the move.

Scott Faber, Executive Director of Just Label It, added: "Vermont continues to be a leader in the fight for GE labeling and the consumer right-to-know. We urge more state leaders to recognize the strong support of this issue nationwide."

The legal challenge to GMO labeling

However, Assistant Attorney General Bridget Asay recently warned lawmakers that biotech companies would probably sue the state over the legislation on First Amendment grounds should it pass, while federal preemption questions were also likely to be raised.

In fact, the best-known example of a successful First Amendment challenge to a state food labeling law was in Vermont, when the 2nd circuit court concluded that a 1994 statute mandating labeling of milk treated with artificial growth hormones (rBST) in Vermont was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, as it compelled food companies to choose speech instead of silence.

Currently, federal law does not require the labeling of genetically engineered foods as the FDA has consistently argued that they do not differ from other foods "in any meaningful or material way" or present any different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding methods.

While H.112 has some high profile industry supporters including Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, it has, however, been strongly criticized by several other food industry sources

A First Amendment challenge to Prop 37 or similar state-led GMO labeling initiatives would therefore be tough to defend, Rebecca Cross, an attorney at San Francisco-based law firm BraunHagey & Borden LLP, recently told FoodNavigator-USA, as the defense (ie. the state) would have to prove that failure to label GMOs would harm consumers.

"To justify GMO labels” said Cross, “you have to consider if any health and safety risks from GMOs are known, probable, or possible, and proving they are known or probable as opposed to just possible, could be hard."

Bill contains controversial clauses over ‘natural’ foods

According to H.112, “labeling foods produced with genetic engineering as ‘natural’, ‘naturally made’, ‘naturally grown’, ‘all natural’, or other descriptors of similar substance is inherently misleading and poses a risk of confusing and deceiving consumers, and conflicts with the general perception that ‘natural’ foods are not genetically engineered”.

Unlike GMO labeling bills that were defeated in 2011 and 2012, H112 does not require meat from animals fed genetically engineered feed to be labeled.

However, it does includes some of the controversial clauses enshrined in Californian GMO labeling initiative Prop 37 - which was narrowly defeated last November - including the stipulation that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients cannot be marketed as ‘natural’.

While the bill has some high profile industry supporters including Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, it has, however, been strongly criticized by other industry sources, notably the United Dairy Farmers of Vermont, which argues that labeling foods containing GE ingredients erroneously implies that there is something wrong with them.

GMA: Bill raises ‘serious constitutional concerns’

Karin Moore, vice president and general counsel of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), recently provided legal testimony against the bill, which she argued raised “serious constitutional concerns”, according to local press reports. Click here for more from VTDigger.org. 

4 comments (Comments are now closed)

Get it over with and get on with bigger issues

I don't really care if GMOs are labelled: that won't change my choices of foods as I believe them to be safe. However, if GMOs are not "natural" then all hexaploid grains that are man-made monsters should not be considered as natural... think about it.
We should focus more attention on continuously improving agricultural practices by reducing impact on the environment for the sake of generations to come.

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Posted by François Cormier
14 May 2013 | 16h59

Free Speech - Seriously?

Give us a break! Governments regulate and/or pass laws requiring labeling all the time, in the interest of preventing fraud and abuse - including existing labeling of foods! Do you think corporations report transfats content because they want to?
This is import legislation that is clearly in the public interest and also is very clearly in line with the public will.

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Posted by Jon Yaffe
14 May 2013 | 16h19

Solution: Take one from Organic Cert

Instead of requiring every co. to state their product contains ingredients that might have been grown with pesticides, we allow companies using organic ingredients to claim so on their package. Similar to organic, let's rely on GMO-free certification to offer a point of differentiation. This call-out puts a positive spin on GMO-free products, vs. casting negative feelings towards conventional counterparts. As a side note, trying to trace every ingredient's genetic ancestry is extremely cumbersome for the food industry; better time should be spent on food safety.

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Posted by Ruth
14 May 2013 | 15h59

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