On May 8, 2014, Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont signed into law this country’s first statute requiring that food labels denote the presence of genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”). The law is scheduled to become effective in July 2016.
Whether food labels must disclose use of GMOs is hotly debated, and both sides appear entrenched. Proponents of GMO-labeling laws claim GMOs pose considerable risk to the environment and to public health. On the other hand, opponents of GMO-labeling laws argue that the passage of such laws will result in significant risk to the food supply, technological development, and affordable living costs.
While Vermont is the first state to officially require mandatory labeling of GMO foods, at least 26 states have already considered or are considering mandatory GMO-labeling laws. Additionally, both Maine and Connecticut passed laws mandating labeling of GMOs prior to passage of Vermont’s law, however, neither state’s law is triggered until other states join the GMO-labeling movement.
Despite the excitement of its supporters, Vermont’s law will have to overcome several obstacles. A lawsuit challenging its constitutionality and seeking an injunction was initiated in federal court on June 12, 2014. Petitioners include the Grocery Manufacturers Association and several other like-minded groups. Whether Vermont’s law is defensible likely hinges on the state’s ability to present evidence confirming the safety risk of GMOs. Many contend that such evidence does not exist.
Additionally, a bipartisan bill prohibiting state GMO-labeling laws is pending in the US House of Representatives. The bill is currently being considered by the House Subcommittee on Health. Its fate and that of Vermont’s new law have yet to be decided.