The Vermont Senate voted to pass a new law requiring labeling for foods that contain  ingredients produced with genetic engineering or genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). If enacted, the law would be the first in the nation to require GMO labeling without any contingencies or similar legislation by adjoining states. The proposed effective date is July 1, 2016.

Although the Vermont House previously passed the bill, it will be returned for representatives to approve changes made by the Senate. Once approved, the bill will reach the governor’s office for signature into law.

It is estimated that 80% of all food sold in the United States is at least partially produced from genetic engineering. The bill would require labeling on all such food sold at retail in Vermont, regardless of whether the food was manufactured in Vermont.

While the bill exempts processing aids and milk from cows that have been fed GMO feed, many dairy products and other foods that incorporate milk would be affected unless they were made with organic ingredients. 

The Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences all have said that GMO ingredients are safe and there are no negative health effects associated with their use.

“This bill would confuse consumers, raise food prices and do nothing to ensure product safety,” said Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs. “It’s too bad for the dairy industry that Vermont would require such labels on chocolate milk, yogurt and other healthy dairy products while offering an exemption to the entire alcoholic beverage sector.”

The neighboring states of Connecticut and Maine already passed labeling laws, but each delayed implementation until at least four other adjoining states passed and implemented similar laws. This strategy is designed to protect them from lawsuits from companies and associations that want to safeguard consistency in food labeling and avoid a 50-state patchwork of laws. Vermont, however, has decided to go it alone and is preparing a war chest in anticipation of the lawsuits to come.

IDFA and many other trade organizations oppose individual state legislation on GMO labeling and fully support The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014, introduced by U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC). This bill would preempt states from requiring mandatory labeling and establish a federal standard for voluntary labeling of food and beverage products made with GMOs.

“IDFA believes that a federal solution on GMO labeling would bolster consumer confidence in American food by affirming FDA’s overall authority for setting the nation’s food safety and labeling regulations,” said Saunders.

IDFA is working with the Safe and Affordable Food Coalition, headed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, on all issues related to GMO labeling.