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Vermont passes GMO labeling bill; Pressure on New York to follow suit?

By Fritz Mayer
April 23, 2014

NORTHEAST UNITED STATES — It seems likely that Vermont will become the first state to pass a stand-alone bill that will require that foods made of any amount of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be labeled as such.

On April 16 the Vermont senate passed a bill requiring GMO labeling, which was similar to one passed by the house last year. Once the two bills are reconciled, the legislature goes to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has indicated he is likely to sign it.

The states of Maine and Connecticut passed GMO labeling bills last year, but those bills would not go into effect until two other states pass similar laws.

The Vermont law has no such trigger, and if signed will take effect in July 2016.

Still, nearly all organizations and analysts who follow the issue expect there will be a lawsuit when and if it is signed. In fact, one of the main reasons Connecticut and Maine included enactments by other states, is so they would not be forced to bear the costs of litigation alone.

That may lead to more action in the campaign in New York State, which is being pursued by a coalition of groups called GMO Free NY, and includes groups such as New York Public Interest Research Group and Northeast Organic Farming Association.

The sponsor of New York’s labeling bill, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, told the website Politico recently that New Yorkers like to be first. She said, “When you have smaller states taking first steps, New Yorkers don’t like that.”

Success in New York is far from assured, because it would likely face stiff opposition from the Senate as well as from many in the agricultural industry, which is already deeply involved in growing GMO crops.

If, however, New York did pass a law, it would make the Northeast regional movement to require GMO labeling nearly unstoppable.

Opponents of labeling such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) aren’t waiting for the effort at the state level to play out before taking action. They are now putting their support behind a bill in Washington that would prevent states from labeling GMO ingredients in food and give the federal government through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sole discretion over the GMO issue.

Congressman Mike Pompeo introduced a bill on April 10, named the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014,” which, according to Pompeo, “would protect consumers by eliminating confusion and advancing food safety. The bill would ‘require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients.’”