Senate Agriculture Weighs GMO Labeling Bill

By Steph Machado

Published 01/14 2014 06:19PM

Updated 01/14 2014 07:01PM

MONTPELIER - Organic, Fair Trade, Gluten Free. A trip to the grocery store can include an overwhelming flood of fine print. But one fact about your food doesn't have to be labeled: whether or not it's been genetically modified.

State Sen. David Zuckerman and the rest of the Senate Agriculture Committee have been given the G.M.O. labeling bill (H.112- an act relating to the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering) that passed the Vermont House last year. Tuesday, they heard testimony from a staff lawyer about legal implications.

"Pure consumer curiosity is not a legitimate interest," said Mike O'Grady, a staff lawyer for the legislature.

"It's more than consumer curiosity that's driving people to support this bill," argues Falko Schilling, a Consumer Protection Advocate for VPIRG, or Vermont Public Interest Research Group. "They do have serious concerns about health, and that's something we know the jury's out on."

Those studying G.M.Os say they are scientific studies, but they're too young to concretely say whether genetically modified foods are harmful to your health.

"What this type of legislation does is it allows individuals to choose: do they want to wait until we see real scientific evidence that this is not harmful?" Sen. Zuckerman (P-Chittenden) said.

The bill will also address the term "all-natural," which is currently not defined by the FDA. Right now, even genetically-modified foods can be labeled all-natural.

The Vermont Grocers' Association only supports food labeling that is federally regulated, such as by the FDA or USDA.

"A state-by-state patchwork would be very problematic," said Jim Harrison, President of Vermont Grocers' Association. "For the retailer, confusing for the customer, and would cause issues with our Vermont producers that are trying to market their products in other states," he said.

Vermont farmers also have concerns. Margaret Laggis of the United Dairy Farmers of Vermont says 96% of corn grown in the state uses G.M.O technology. Though the bill would not require meat that fed G.M.Os to be labeled, she says farmers fear a ban may be next.

"There's going to be a push to force processors to not accept these crops from farmers," she said. "And therefore in the end, we'll not be able to use this technology anymore."

In addition to meat, dairy and alcohol would be exempted from G.M.O labeling because they already have federal labeling standards.

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