GMO label movement faces hurdles in Vermont
MONTPELIER — Jeff Weinstein runs a small Montpelier company called Two Guys in Vermont that makes soups that are sold in area stores.
Weinstein said he uses as many local, wholesome ingredients as he can find. He packages the soup in glass jars to steer clear of the chemicals in cans. He would love it if his soups could stand out on the supermarket shelf as not containing genetically engineered foods. “For people who buy my soup, GE-free is important,“ Weinstein said.
Weinstein recently urged the House Agriculture Committee to pass a bill requiring foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled as such. That means some of Weinstein’s competitors’ soup might come bearing a prominent label that reads: “This product may be partially produced with genetic engineering.”
Legislators have heard a drumbeat of support for labeling. Some 300 people turned out for an April 12 public hearing at the Statehouse. More that 100 addressed the House Agriculture Committee, all speaking in favor of labeling genetically engineered foods.
“We have a right to uncontaminated agriculture in this state,” Peggy Luhrs of Burlington told the committee at the hearing, echoing a common sentiment of uneasiness with the science of genetically engineered seeds. Many noted that 50 other nations require some sort of labeling. “There is a desire to know what’s in their food,” Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Despite the clamor, labeling appears to be a long ways off in Vermont. Legislation that emerged from the House Agriculture Committee on Friday afternoon comes too late in the legislative session for there to be any hope of it making its way through the full House, the Senate and into law. In addition, the resistance that the legislation ran into highlights the chasm that can exist between the goals of a burgeoning political movement and the pressures legislators face as they seek to fashion laws.
The bill faces powerful opposition, and not only from the biotechnology industry that manufactures and defends its genetically engineered seeds. Some of the very people one might assume would be for the bill are also against it.
What’s at stake
• THE BILL: The House Agriculture Committee voted 9-1 on Friday for a bill, H.722, that would require products containing genetically modified foods to be labeled as such, but delays implementation until a year after California and at least two Northeastern states pass similar laws.
• LABELING ADVOCATES: Supporters in Vermont of labeling genetically engineered foods have formed a consortium: www.vtrighttoknow.org.
• LABELING OPPONENTS: The Bio Technology Organization, a trade group representing biotechechnology companies that include seed manufacturer Monsanto Corp., opposes labeling legislation: www.bio.org.
• FDA: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rejected efforts to require labeling nationally and considers genetically engineered foods safe:www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/default.htm.
• NON-GMO PROJECT: The California-based group has a verification process for labeling products as free of genetically engineered ingredients,www.nongmoproject.org.