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Vermont just passed the nation’s first GMO food labeling law. Now it prepares to get sued. PDF Print E-mail
Posted by Joan Russow
Friday, 09 May 2014 12:19
Edge Fuentes, left, stands with his wife Katie Spring, right, and their 9-month-old son Waylon in their planting room surrounded by seedlings for vegetables and flowers at their Good Heart Farmstead, Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Worcester, Vt. Spring and Fuentes back the GMO labeling bill passed by the Vermont Legislature. They believe people need to be able to know what’s in their food. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)

Edge Fuentes, left, stands with his wife Katie Spring, right, and their 9-month-old son Waylon in their planting room surrounded by seedlings for vegetables and flowers at their Good Heart Farmstead in Worcester, Vt. Spring and Fuentes backed the GMO labeling law, arguing people need to be able to know what’s in their food. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)

UPDATE: This post, originally published on April 29, was updated on May 9 to reflect that the bill became law.

Vermont on Thursday became the first state in the nation to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed that mandate into law on Thursday afternoon, saying in a statement “we believe we have a right to know what’s in the food we buy.” The new law represents a significant victory for advocates who have for years pushed such measures at the state and local level. But there remains one more hurdle to overcome: a likely lawsuit.

There’s no guarantee of legal action, of course, but legislators, officials and advocates are preparing for the state to be sued over the new law. Last month, state Attorney General Bill Sorrell told Vermont Public Radio that he would be “very surprised” if the state isn’t sued. And officials were so sure of a challenge that the measure itself creates a $1.5 million legal defense fund, to be paid for with settlements won by the state. They think it’s coming, but they also say they’re ready.

“The threat of a lawsuit worked for a while, but now it doesn’t work anymore,” says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, whose organization has for years worked with activists and lawmakers in Vermont on the issue. “I think they may go ahead and sue and do it rather quickly in the hopes that it may gather momentum,” he added, referring to biotech industry groups.

Other states have pursued similar measures, but Vermont’s law will be the first of its kind. Connecticut and Maine passed labeling requirements, but with trigger clauses requiring multiple other states to pass labeling requirements before their own go into effect. At least 25 states have considered such legislation, according to a recent report on labeling requirements from the nonprofit Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. And advocates are hopeful they will get a measure on the Oregon ballot this year.

Efforts to label GMO foods, 2013. (Council for Agricultural Science and Technology Issue Paper 54)

Efforts to label GMO foods, 2013. (Council for Agricultural Science and Technology Issue Paper 54)

 

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