MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont has raised the stakes in the debate over genetically modified foods by becoming the first state to pass a bill requiring that they be labeled as such in the grocery aisle, making the move despite the opposition of the powerful U.S. food industry.
Americans overwhelmingly favor such requirements for foods containing genetically modified organisms, but the industry fears a patchwork of state policies. The Vermont bill says genetically modified foods "potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture, and the environment" and includes $1.5 million for implementation and defense against lawsuits expected from the food and biotech industries.
The national Grocery Manufacturers Association, the food industry's main trade group, said it's evaluating how to respond. Options include a legal challenge, labeling only foods that are sold in Vermont or making a wholesale change nationwide to avoid multiple labeling systems.
The Vermont House approved Senate changes Wednesday and sent the bill to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who said he plans to sign it. The requirements would take effect July 1, 2016, giving producers time to comply.
Genetically modified crops have been altered to be resistant to insects, germs or herbicides. They have led to bountiful crops and food production but stirred concerns about the dominance of big agribusiness and the potential for environmental harm.
The FDA says there's no material difference between food produced with genetic engineering and food produced without it. But the Vermont bill cites a lack of consensus among scientists on the safety of GMOs and no long-term epidemiological studies in the United States examining their effects.
Twenty-nine other states have proposed bills recently to require GMO labeling, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than 60 countries require such labeling, according to the Vermont Right to Know campaign.