Vermont Governor Signs GMO Labeling Law – Oregon County To Vote On GMO Measure

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: May 20, 2014

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Living up to its label as the most progressive state in the Union, Vermont became the first state to pass a law requiring labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms. Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill into law on May 8, 2014, surrounded by family, supporters and advocates of non-GMO foodstuffs.

Food Retailers Set To Challenge Vermont’s Labeling Law

GMOThe new law requires any food containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled as such by July 1, 2016. It is expected that biotech groups and food retailers will challenge the law in federal court. The National Grocery Manufacturers Association has already released a statement labeling the law “ critically flawed” and “costly for consumers.” The GMA also pointed out that consumers already have the ability to choose non-GMO foods by choosing from “an array of products already in the marketplace labeled ‘certified organic.’” The GMA is the first group to go on record stating that it will file suit in the coming weeks to block implementation of the law.

Vermont’s Governor Crowdsources Defense Fund

In a preemptive move to defend against such suits, Gov. Shumlin announced the creation of a website——that allows consumers to donate to a fund earmarked for the cost of defending suits such as the one promised by the GMA. In a state like Vermont, where social activism is almost a way of life, this type of public/private crowdfunding is sure to be successful. State Attorney General Bill Sorrell has vowed to fight any challenges to the law. Vermont has a mixed record in labeling suits, winning a case involving mercury but losing a case involving rBST in milk.

Ben & Jerry’s Supports GMO Labeling

The most famous of Vermont’s native businesses has already pledged its support for the law, and its defense. Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim was present at the bill’s signing, complete with a truck full of Cherry Garcia and Milk & Cookies ice cream—both GMO free—to give away to supporters in attendance. Ben & Jerry’s is making a concerted effort to source non-GMO ingredients for its products. The Center For Food Safety, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocate group called Vermont “a beacon of hope for the labeling movement” and promised to help the state mount a defense to any lawsuits that may arise.

The debate surrounding GMOs is likely to continue unabated for years to come. While states such as Connecticut and Maine have mechanisms in place to require labeling should neighboring states adopt similar laws, Vermont is an outlier in its aggressive legislation of a controversial issue. Considering the biotech, food production and grocery dollars involved, it is highly likely that this fight will reach the upper echelons of the Federal government before it is decided once and for all.

County In Oregon To Vote On Local GMO Measure

In a related story, Jackson County, Oregon is set to vote today, May 20th, on whether or not to ban genetically modified crops in the county. The county is home to many farms, some with GMO crops. Unlike the GMO controversy that is focused on the health aspects of genetically modified crops, the issue raised by Measure 15-119 is the impact of GMO crops on the organic and non-GMO farms in the same region. The climate patterns and terrain of the county create unique challenges to farmers raising crops downwind from GMO farmers. GMO crops pollinate non-GMO crops, requiring non-GMO farmers to purchase new seed every year in order to avoid inadvertently growing GMO crops. While purely a local issue, Measure 15-119 has, nonetheless, garnered state-wide attention, pitting big corporations, such as Monsanto, Dupont and Dow Agrisciences, against small family farmers.

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