City Market Supports GMO Labeling in Vermont

By Pat Burns, General Manager

Last month, I shared some topics to watch for 2014 here at the Co-op, including GMO labeling. As you probably know, H.112 “An Act Relating to the Labeling of Food Produced with Genetic Engineering,” was introduced last legislative session in the Vermont House. At the beginning of the current session, in January, the bill was read for the first time on the Senate floor and referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. On January 16, Vermonters gathered at the Statehouse to rally in support of GMO labeling. As I write this, the Agriculture Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee plan to hold a joint public hearing on Thursday, February 6. If you’re interested in this topic, I’m hoping you took the opportunity to travel to Montpelier to speak in support of GMO labeling.

Here at the Co-op, we’re continuing to partner with Vermont Right to Know GMOs to educate staff and consumers about GMO labeling in Vermont. Vermont Right to Know is a partnership between Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), Rural Vermont, and Cedar Circle Farm. In March, several Vermont food cooperatives will be sponsoring staff and community education events around the state.

City Market is sponsoring our own GMO Labeling Community Event with Vermont Right to Know on Thursday, March 6 from 5:30 – 7pm in the Fletcher Free Library’s Community Room. Join us to learn some GMO basics over light (and organic) refreshments! We’ll review the increasing concerns about the health and safety risks and how you can support the passage of a GMO Labeling Bill in Vermont.

GMO labeling legislation has already passed in Connecticut (December 2013) and Maine (January 2014). Connecticut’s Act (also known as “An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Food”) requires that four other states pass similar legislation (with one of these states bordering Connecticut) or that any combination of northeastern states with a combined population of over 20 million (using 2010 census data) pass similar legislation. Maine’s Act (formally known as “An Act to Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right to Know about Genetically Engineered Food”) requires that four states contiguous to Maine pass similar legislation before taking effect. If this doesn’t occur before January 1, 2018, Maine’s law includes a provision for automatic repeal whereas Connecticut’s law does not appear to have this provision. In addition, in 2013 Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia all considered GMO labeling legislation; that’s a total of 23 states, or 26 with Connecticut, Maine and Vermont included. According to the Center for Food Safety, only a handful of these bills are no longer moving forward – in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington.

While I appreciate that Vermont is attempting to model change for the rest of the country, I have some concerns about the GMO labeling bill not relying on other states to pass similar legislation. This may leave us open to unnecessary criticism about one small state requiring this with no “economic clout” to enforce the requirement and the possibility of lawsuits that would be expensive to defend. This type of requirement has, on the other hand, received its fair share of criticism for making it harder to affect any change if other states don’t pass similar laws.

The good news is that there is plenty of multi-state collaboration going on behind the scenes and this is a robust bill that promotes transparency and education, allowing consumers to make decisions about what they eat. And I support the legislation as it best explains its mission with this statement, “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, notwithstanding limited exceptions, to prevent inadvertent consumer deception, prevent potential risks to human health, promote food safety, protect cultural and religious practices, protect the environment, and promote economic development.”

What will you do to support this bill? Visit Vermont Right to Know GMOs’ website and click on the menu item (up top) for “GMO Action Center.” You’ll find some easy ways to share your support for this bill with your community (Front Porch Forum, anyone?) and your legislators.

Interested in more reading on this topic? Visit these previous articles and blog posts:

Save the Date for City Market’s GMO Labeling Community Event!
Thursday, March 6
5:30pm – 7pm
Fletcher Free Library’s Community Room

Join us to learn some GMO basics over light (and organic) refreshments! We’ll review the increasing concerns about the health and safety risks and how you can support the passage of a GMO Labeling Bill in Vermont.