The bill, passed by both bodies of the state legislature, was signed into law by Governor Peter Shumlin late Wednesday.
This campaign has been energizing and inspiring to all who have worked to label GMO foods. Right now, all eyes are on Vermont and the essential work they have accomplished. It is all because people like you stood up and made it clear they have a right to know what is in their food.
I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food," Shumlin said in a statement.
State Rep. Shap Smith, speaker of the Vermont House, echoed Shumlin's message, stating: "Every Vermonter has a right to know what is in their food."
"Genetically engineered foods potentially pose risks to human health and the environment," he continued. "I am proud to be the first state in the nation to recognize that people deserve to know whether the food they consume is genetically modified or engineered."
Farmers, citizens, and food safety and consumer advocates also praised the law, calling it an important moment in the fight against large agribusiness and biotech firms who have opposed labeling laws in numerous states and nationally. Though labeling gmo foods is extremely popular among the American public, so far all legislative efforts to pass such laws have been defeated.
Two other New England states--both Connecticut and Maine--have passed condition-based labeling laws, meaning they will not go into effect until a larger number of neighboring states pass similar legislation. Vermont's new law has no such restrictions.
“The people and legislators of Vermont have taken a tremendous step forward in allowing their citizens to know what is in their food. All families deserve this simple right to know,” said Rebecca Spector from the Center for Food Safety which helped organize the labeling effort in the state. “We congratulate all of the activists and lawmakers in Vermont who made this victory possible.”
Detailing the implications of the new law, the CFS thinks that Vermont’s mandatory labeling policy will likely set the stage for more states to introduce and adopt no strings attached labeling laws.
Specifically, the law states that “because both the FDA and the U.S. Congress do not require the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, the State should require food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such in order to serve the interests of the State."
In addition to stipulating food containing gmo products be labeled as such, the law also mandates that these same foods cannot be labeled as "natural" or be described with any "words of similar import that would have a tendency to mislead a consumer."
Will Allen, an organic farmer in Vermont who runs the Cedar Circle Farm, was quoted by the Associated Press saying: "This vote is a reflection of years of work from a strong grassroots base of Vermonters who take their food and food sovereignty seriously and do not take kindly to corporate bullies."
Given the strong corporate opposition to the GMO labeling movement, the people of Vermont expect those interests to follow through on threats to file suit against the state for passing the law. With that inevitability in mind, the law included a provision that sets up a legal defense fund for the state to do battle against those interests.
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety, said that if powerful corporations like Monsanto or food industry lobbyists like the Grocery Manufactures of America (GMA) file suit, his organization will be among those backing the Vermont people in the fight
“Should the industry try to challenge this law, Center for Food Safety will be there to help defend it and we are confident that it would survive any such challenge," Kimrbell vowed.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.