Before we get into the details of Vermont’s GMO labeling bill, which Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected to sign into law, let’s take a moment and look at how far things have come in the past few years. 

In 2012 and 2013 respectively, California and Washington state both saw similar bills defeated by voters after the companies that make and use GMO seeds and ingredients spent millions of dollars to confuse consumers who said they want GMO foods labeled.

But, consumers won’t give up on the cause, and food manufacturers, grocery markets, and politicians are starting to get the message. One of the biggest trends I saw at last year’s Natural Products Expo East was food companies obtaining the independent NonGMO Project Verified certification. Whole Foods has pledged full GMO transparency by 2018, and Target’s Simply Balanced line of foods is set to be entirely GMO-free by the end of this year.

Even companies that are spending money to stop GMO labeling have heard the consumer cry. General Mills spent almost $600,000 in Washington state to defeat GMO labeling, but earlier this year the company made the big announcement that the kid-favorite original Cheerios would be non-GMO.

Now lawmakers in Vermont have chosen to listen to Americans who are saying they have the right to know what’s in their food. On April 23, lawmakers in the state House passed a bill that would require GMO labeling by July 2016. Yes, it’s two years away, but it’s an ambitious and admirable timetable when you think about all the manufacturers that will have to redesign product labels. It's estimated that 70 to 80 percent of packaged foods in the grocery store contain some GMO ingredients.

Once the governor signs the bill into law, it will be a huge victory for consumers. Unfortunately, it could be a short-lived one.

The state anticipates legal trouble. Included in the bill is establishment of a fund of up to $1.5 million to help pay for the state's defense against a lawsuit. People will be able to contribute voluntarily and any money the state attorney general wins in other court settlements can be added.
Some of that legal trouble could come from the federal government. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) introduced a bill earlier this month at the federal level that would create a plan for voluntary GMO labeling but make it illegal for individual states to require labeling. If that bill gets signed into law (and if it ever gets far enough along that it seems it might, I’ll let you know), Vermont’s labeling law would be in jeopardy.

It’s a wait-and-see situation to find out if foods on the grocery store shelves in Vermont will actually have GMO labeling in July 2016. But, for now, it’s a victory, if only because it’s further evidence that consumers' voices are making a difference. If Vermont succeeds in getting GMO-labeled foods on grocery store shelves, it could just be what other states need to encourage them to create similar laws. 

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