Thu April 24, 2014

Vermont Set To Label GMOs, Colorado Might Not Be Far Behind

A 2013 rally against genetically modified foods brought hundreds to the steps of the Colorado capitol.
A 2013 rally against genetically modified foods brought hundreds to the steps of the Colorado capitol.
Credit Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Vermont is poised to become the first state to enact mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

The Vermont legislation comes at the same time proponents of similar requirements gather signatures in Colorado. They're trying to get the issue in front of voters for the November 2014 election. More than 86,000 signatures are needed for the proposal to make it onto the ballot.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday he plans to sign a bill passed by Vermont lawmakers that would require foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, to be labeled as having been produced with “genetic engineering.”  

If Shumlin signs the bill, it would kick in on July 1, 2016. That would make Vermont the first state in the country to require GMO labels. Maine and Connecticut both passed GMO labeling bills, but those laws don’t go into effect until surrounding states pass similar rules.

The Vermont bill would also bar foods containing GMOs from being labeled “all natural” or “natural,”  Reuters reports.

Vermont’s GMO labeling bill will almost surely be challenged in court, according to the state’s attorney general, Bill Sorrell.

“I’ll be very surprised if we are not sued if the Legislature goes ahead and enacts a mandatory GMO labeling statute,” Sorrell told Vermont Public Radio. “A lot of people might not realize that this is arguably a free speech issue.”

The bill contains a legal defense fund to be used by the state to defend the law.

Foods containing GMO ingredients are common in the U.S. Almost 90 percent of the corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified. While much of that isn’t consumed by humans, a good portion of it is turned in to feed for livestock that are then eaten by humans.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, recently introduced a bill that would create a federal voluntary GMO labeling plan. But it would also outlaw state rules like Vermont’s that require GMO labels.

KUNC and Harvest Public Media's Luke Runyon contributed to this report.