Vermont Governor Signs GMO Labeling Bill, Big Food in Position to Take Action


Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has officially signed the nation’s first no-trigger-clause GMO labeling bill – Vermont H. 122 – into law. The bill, which goes into effect July 1, 2016, mandates the labeling of all foods containing GMO ingredients sold in the state. It also requires removal of the word “natural” and its derivatives from any packaging on foods that contain GMOs.

“By signing this bill, Gov. Shumlin has raised the bar across the country for the people’s right to know,” Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director for Center for Food Safety, who helped draft the bill, said in a statement. “This historic achievement is a clear sign that a federal requirement to label genetically engineered foods is the way of the future.”

But already, the law is receiving its share of push back from the Big Food industry. Biotech and multinational food manufacturers say the bill violates the First Amendment, which also protects businesses, and some are poised to file lawsuits against the state of Vermont in efforts to quash the bill before it goes into effect.

“If you put yourself in the shoes of a manufacturer, [GMO labeling is] not a practical concept,” Hillshire Brands Co. Chief Executive Officer Sean Connolly told Bloomberg Businessweek. “You can’t have customized labels state by state. That would dramatically drive up the cost to consumers even higher, which is certainly not in their best interest when there’s nothing wrong with the ingredients to begin with.”

According to Bloomberg, “Kraft, Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co. are among the food makers that have lobbied against stalled GMO labeling legislation in California, the most populous state. They argue that labeling laws could increase food manufacturing and retail costs for processors and grocers. The Washington Research Council, a Seattle-based group that opposed the labeling bill in that state, estimated it would add as much as $520 to the annual food bill for a family of four.”

One option being considered is that companies with GMO products could simply “write off Vermont and stop selling products there, ceding the state’s $750 million packaged-food market,” Nicholas Fereday, an analyst at Rabobank International said in a note to Bloomberg. “Or they may embark on a broader push to use GMO-free ingredients, as General Mills has already done with its Cheerios cereal, he said. That would put the U.S. more in line with Europe, where GMO foods are largely restricted.”

Violating the GMO labeling law will yield fines of up to $1,000 per day. Those fines would be used to defend the state if lawsuits were filed over the bill.

“We are confident opponents of mandatory labeling will not prevail,” Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of Just Label It said in a statement. “[The] historic victory in Vermont will instead hasten similar labeling bills across the country and ultimately at the federal level. This is what citizens want.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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