By Arianne Pfoutz
Published: May 31, 2013
Category: GM Food Labeling and Regulation
It’s the farthest a state labeling bill for GMOs has made it through the legislative process. Vermont House Bill 112 passed through the final hurdle in the House of Representatives on May 10, with a vote of 99-42. Unfortunately, the Senate won’t review it until the Legislature convenes in January 2014. Governor Pete Shumlin recently told Vermont Public Radio he would sign the bill if the Senate passes it.
“This historic vote shows that state legislatures are beginning to step up and support the overwhelming demand from consumers to label GM foods,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “We… thank these legislators for standing up to powerful special interest groups.”
“Vermont’s historic vote today is a major victory for consumer demand,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union.
State Senator David Zuckerman, who’s been fighting GMO issues in the Legislature for 14 years, is sponsoring the companion bill to HB 112. “It’s a shame we have to wait until January, but two or three other states, such as Washington, Maine, and Connecticut, may pass labeling legislation by then, strengthening our position. I expect it to be a slightly uphill battle.”
Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, agrees that by January the political landscape may be quite different. “We have eleven co-sponsors (out of 30 senators) for the Senate bill, so I’m optimistic.”
HB 112 requires labeling of all products containing GM ingredients, but it exempts meat and dairy products. The petition for the bill was introduced by Rural Vermont, Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), and NOFA Vermont. All 17 Vermont co-ops and their 30,000 members support the bill.
If the bill passes, it would become effective July 1, 2015, or 18 months after two states pass similar legislation.
The passage of HB 112 came not without lively discussion on the floor. Preliminary House hearings ended in a 107-38 vote in favor; they were filled with passionate testimonies asserting the right of citizens to know and research pointing to potential dangers of GMOs. On the other side there were equally fervent concerns about the logistics of having to label 80% of what’s on grocery shelves, possible rising food prices or food unavailability, but most seriously, the possibility of a $5-$10 million legal tab for Vermont, if the bill passes and the biotech and grocery industries decide to sue on grounds of unconstitutionality.
On Friday, after careful questioning about the bill’s ramifications, and after declining several amendments limiting the bill, the final vote came in at 99-42.
“I voted for this because, plain and simple, Vermonters are asking for and deserve the right to know what is in their food,” said Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney.
Those opposing the bill don’t want their state to be the “lone soldier” out there fighting the battle and risking a costly lawsuit, which Vermont has experienced several of recently. Rep. Thomas Koch said, “[All other states] seem to be waiting for Vermont to go first and ‘lead the nation,’” he said. “What they mean is that they don’t want to risk their taxpayers’ money.”
Rep. Mike Hebert acknowledged having concerns about the bill. “It was a difficult decision for me,” Hebert said. “But I heard from a lot of constituents who really wanted this passed.”
So what will happen between now and the Senate hearings?
“I think we’ll see a massive media campaign from the biotech industry to convince people GMOs are OK,” Andrea Stander said.
VPIRG is making HB 112 the central focus of its summer canvassing efforts.
And would Governor Shumlin sign the bill if it passes the Senate?
“I think in the end, he will,” Zuckerman said. “We know he supports it personally.”
Stander added: “We’ve made a lot of headway this year persuading the Governor’s office, the Legislative Council and the Attorney General’s office that this bill is defensible.”
Meanwhile, it’s time to take a few minutes to celebrate a hard-won victory.
(Sources: Brattleboro Reformer; Associated Press; Vermont Digger; WCAX.com)
© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, June 2013