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U.S. House Passes GMO Labeling Bill To Dismay Of Vermont

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The U.S. House has passed and sent to the president legislation that will pre-empt Vermont’s newly effective GMO labeling law and replace it with what some consumer activists say is a weaker national standard.
The federal GMO labeling bill passed the House 306 to 117.  Manufacturers have three labeling options.  They may use text on the label, put a phone number or website on the product or place a QR code readable by a cell phone.  The USDA will have two years to establish national labeling standards.  

Of particular concern in the Northeast, the legislation preempts states from establishing any GMO labeling statutes and nullifies Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which became effective July 1st.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell is studying the federal legislation, which President Obama is expected to sign, to determine if the state will have any legal rights to enforce any provisions of Vermont’s law or if there is any basis to challenge the federal law.  “We're doing some legal research to see what lines of attack we might have but wealthy powerful commercial interests with a great deal of influence in Washington have had a big day and consumers in Vermont and nationally are the worse for it. But there's still some more lawyering to be done for sure but our law appears to be on life support if that.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association says the legislation will ensure that consumers will be able to obtain more information about genetically engineered ingredients while avoiding a confusing jumble of individual state mandates.  Senior Vice President for Federal Affairs Mike Gruber says such consistency is critical for the association’s members.   “The threat of a patchwork of state laws was a very serious one for our companies, especially those companies that manufacture products in one state and ship to the other forty-nine.  Having a patchwork of labeling laws is almost impossible to comply with.”

Gruber says the federal label avoids stigmatizing GMO foods.   “This label in Vermont was designed to stigmatize the technology and mislead consumers into believing there is something wrong with the product. So through our disclosure we can provide a science based explanation. I think the Smart Label initiative provides a vast amount of information beyond just GMO’s about the products that people buy every single day.”

Vermont at-large Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat, disparaged the legislation on the House floor.  “Frankly when you look at it, it’s kind of dumb.”

Welch also doesn’t buy the argument that Vermont’s law stigmatizes GMO products.   “It's the right of a consumer to know what they're buying and the manufacturer should tell them. Number two, the one issue that is legitimate is it's better to have a national standard but the national standard ought to be easy for consumers. But I think you're going to see that more manufacturers are going to realize that this cumbersome setup that was established by Congress is pretty dumb and quite frustrating for consumers and my hope is that they'll just use plain English.”

State preemptions will be effective as soon as the president signs the bill.  Federal labeling provisions will not go into effect for at least two years.  

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