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GMO Legislation on a Roll in Vt., Mass.

Submitted by Food Democracy Now on March 18, 2016 - 3:19pm

A Vermont law requiring most genetically modified food to be labeled as such remains on schedule to take effect July 1. The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted not to advance a bill that would have blocked such state laws.

Meanwhile, a Massachusetts bill to require clear labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients has won backing of the Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. The bill, with Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, as a lead sponsor, has bipartisan support in the Massachusetts House and Senate with 154 co-sponsors out of 200 members, advocates say.

The Massachusetts bill must be approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, which follows on the heels of measures passed in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont. The New England Farmers Union applauded the move to advance the bill as a measure to further transparency in labeling — a principle it says more than 90 percent of the Massachusetts population supports. 

The food industry has said it supports voluntary labeling policies but opposes mandatory labeling on packages of foods that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. They say GMOs are safe and allow more food to be produced on less land.

Vermont was not the first state to enact a GMO labeling law when it did so in 2014, but other states with such laws said the measures would take effect only when neighboring states went along. Vermont decided to go it alone, meaning it is expected as of July to be the first state with a labeling requirement in effect.

Previous to its setback in the Senate, industry groups also failed in federal court to stop Vermont’s law from taking effect. That decision is being appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, which could still rule to block the Vermont law.

On a 48-49 procedural vote — short of the 60 votes needed for passage — the Senate decided not to go ahead with legislation similar to a bill passed by the U.S. House last year.

The decision was hailed by Vermont’s U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and Gov. Peter Shumlin, both Democrats, and independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. It was sharply criticized by industry groups, which vowed to continue fighting for the legislation and are also seeking to have Vermont’s law overturned in Federal court.

While expressing relief at Wednesday’s Senate vote, Shumlin criticized the Congress for letting the measure get as far as it has.

“This is a Congress, led by the Republicans, that believes in states’ rights, that believes in a smaller federal government, until it comes to matters that affect either a woman’s right to plan for her own health care choices or until it’s against the Monsanto and the large food companies in America who don’t want you to know what’s in your food,” the governor said.

Both the federal Food and Drug Administration and industry groups say there are no health threats from genetically modified food, but labeling advocates argue that consumers should be notified when genetic engineering has been used in the foods they buy.

“Consumers everywhere simply have the right to know,” Leahy said. “We are not asking manufacturers to change their production processes. We are simply asking them to tell consumers what is in the products that go on store shelves. ” 

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Originally Published: The Recorder

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