Vermont’s new GMO law may upend food industry nationwide

Vermont’s law requiring GMO labels could help trigger nationwide rules
‘If there is no safety risk, why on earth would government be mandating anything?’ lawmaker says of GMOs

Te biggest worry weighing on the nation’s food industry may not be drought in the West, farmworker shortages or turbulent international trade negotiations, but a change in the regulatory code in Vermont.

Under a law signed this month, the tiny New England state, population 626,000, will soon require that food companies tell consumers which products on grocers’ shelves have genetically modified ingredients. In doing so, Vermont could force food growers, processors and retailers to upend how they serve hundreds of millions of customers nationwide.

The law puts Vermont at the forefront of a national movement that major food processors and agricultural companies are doing their utmost to kill.

Agribusiness firms and trade associations have poured tens of millions of dollars into political advertising and consultants to campaign against GMO labeling requirements and have enlisted members of Congress in a bid to outlaw state labeling rules. Industry officials have also vowed to sue Vermont, hoping to block its rule in court.

But although the industry has won several major battles on the issue — including ballot initiative campaigns in California in 2012 and in Washington state last year — the national push for GMO labeling has proved a resilient grass-roots effort, given added push by a broad swath of celebrity chefs, food writers and actors.

Connecticut and Maine already have laws that would impose labeling rules if enough neighboring states do the same, meaning that Vermont’s move could help trigger action elsewhere in the Northeast. On the other side of the country, voters in Oregon probably will weigh in on the issue this fall, and a new California measure fell just two votes short in the state Senate on Thursday. About 1.4 million Americans have signed a petition imploring the Food and Drug Administration to implement labeling nationwide.

“Consumers want to know what is in their food,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said. “Elected officials will have to meet the demands of consumers or be rejected at the ballot box. There is no doubt in my mind this will spread across the country.”

At a signing ceremony, Shumlin talked up, a website where sympathizers can give money to help the state fend off the industry’s army of lawyers.

Some scientists at the forefront of food safety efforts find the crusade for GMO labeling to be perplexing, saying that consumers would be much better served with labels alerting them to pesticides or various other byproducts that taint food.

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