Vermont Becomes First State To Enact GMO Labeling Law

By Steph Machado

Published 05/08 2014 03:41PM

Updated 05/08 2014 10:21PM

MONTPELIER - Vermont made history Thursday when Governor Peter Shumlin signed the GMO labeling bill into law.

"Vermonters have spoken loud and clear," Gov. Shumlin said to a crowd of about 300 on the Statehouse lawn. "They want to know what's in their food."

It was a veritable party, complete with music and free Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

"This is one of those cases where democracy won the day," said State Sen. David Zuckerman (D-Chittenden), one of the major leaders of the fight and an organic farmer himself.

The bill is the first of its kind in the United States, though 60 other countries already label products that contain foods with genetically engineered ingredients.

While some companies voluntarily label that their foods are "non-GMO," this law requires manufacturers who do use the technology to label it. That includes the majority of processed foods in the U.S. It will also clear up confusion about "all natural" labels.

"Part of the success of this new legislation is that something that has GMO ingredients will not be able to be called all natural anymore," said Kari Bradley, General Manager of Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier. His store carries 30% organic foods, but does still have conventional processed foods that could contain GMOs. As a health food store, he says he encounters a lot of consumer confusion about what is in their products.

The legislature passed this law without a trigger clause, which would've required other states to pass a law first in order to share the burden of a lawsuit from GMO manufacturers. Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling laws with trigger clauses. Those states' laws will not be triggered by Vermont.

"We aren't waiting for anyone else to tell us it's okay to stand up and protect our citizens," said Paul Burns, Executive Director of VPIRG. His organization's grassroots advocates played a big role in spreading the word about labeling.

A special fund has been set up to help pay for the impending lawsuit, estimated to cost at least $1.5 million.

"We are asking people all across go to and make a donation so we can win this food fight fund fight for Vermont and for America!" Shumlin said.

"I think we're ready to take on the legal issues," said Tom Tailer, a Vermonter from Essex who came to watch the signing. He said he's been waiting over a decade for this day. "I think eventually most Americans will come to see the same light," he said. He says he'll definitely donate to the special fund.

The hope now is that other states will quickly follow Vermont's lead.

"This is going to be a domino effect," said Sen. Zuckerman.

The law goes into effect in 2016 to give the Attorney General more time to prepare for the lawsuit.

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