by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 15, 2014
VERMONT TAKES THE LEAD ON GMO LABELING
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In recent years, Vermont has been more than willing to stick its neck out on big issues, ranging from same-sex marriage to challenging federal authority over nuclear power plants, to campaign finance laws and to committing to the creation of a single-payer health care system.
It is in this spirit of challenging the status quo that Vermont last week became the first state to enact a law mandating the labeling of genetically modified food, or GMOs.
While Connecticut and Maine have already passed GMO labeling laws, both states included clauses in their bills that require a certain number of states to enact similar laws before they will take effect.
Vermont's law has no trigger clause. It also prohibits any food that contains GMO ingredients from being labeled as "natural."
More than 60 countries already have laws that either restrict the production of GMO foods or requires them to be labeled. More than two dozen U.S. states are considering similar laws.
But standing in the way are agribusiness behemoths such as Monsanto and lobbying groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).
Given that most commodity crops grown in the U.S. are genetically modified and that the majority of processed food sold in U.S. supermarkets contain GMOs, these forces are ready to go to court to challenge this bill.
And sure enough, the day after the Vermont bill was signed, the GMA announced its intention to sue Vermont.
Calling the law "critically flawed and not in the best interests of consumers," the GMA maintains that government "has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients, making this law's legality suspect at best."
BIO hasn't announced its intentions to sue Vermont, but they claim the labeling law will cost the average household about $400 more for groceries annually.
The state Legislature anticipated this, and started up what they call the Vermont Food Fight Fund to raise money to help cover the legal costs of defending this bill.
But the industrial food complex has a right to be scared. Even though there is no scientific consensus whether genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption, in countries where GMO labeling laws are in effect, consumers avoid buying GMO foods. Given a choice, consumers in the United States will do the same.
However, Vermont's GMO labeling law is not just about letting consumers know what's in their food. It's about standing up for the small farmers in this state.
Agriculture is a big part of the Vermont economy, and in particular for value-added products from cheese to fruit preserves to maple syrup. The Vermont name is synonymous with pure, wholesome and delicious food, and commands a premium in the market.
Today's farms in Vermont are small, diversified, and innovative. They are well-positioned to take a leadership role in creating a new agricultural model to meet the challenges of climate change, peak oil, and globalization.
This is why Vermont is talking a leadership role on GMOs. Washington won't regulate GMOs, and the agricultural-industrial complex will do everything it can to stop regulation of GMOs. So, it's up to the state to do it, and Vermont is more than happy to take the point.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.