The Vermont House of Representatives has passed a bill (H. 112) that would require labeling of foods with genetically modified (GM) ingredients. According to the legislative findings recited in the proposal, “There is a lack of consensus regarding the validity of the research and science surrounding the safety of genetically engineered foods, as indicated by the fact that there are peer-reviewed studies published in international scientific literature showing negative, neutral, and positive health results.” The findings also suggest that GM crops pose environmental hazards.

The measure, which requires Senate approval, would define what constitutes genetic engineering, prohibit any GM food from bearing a “natural” label and require placement of the term “‘genetically engineered’ immediately preceding any common name or primary product descriptor of a food.” If enacted, the proposal would take effect on the first of two dates: “18 months after two other states enact legislation with requirements substantially comparable to the requirements of this act for the labeling of food produced from genetic engineering,” or July 1, 2015. The House approved the bill 99-42.

Meanwhile, the Maine Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee approved a GM labeling proposal (L.D. 718) on May 14, 2013, by an 8-3 vote. This bill would require a “conspicuous disclosure that states ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering’” on foods and seed stocks. It would also prohibit the use of “natural” to describe any food or seed stock subject to the disclosure requirement.

According to former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sunstein, such labels should not be required because they would unnecessarily alarm consumers, and “inevitably lead many consumers to suspect that public officials, including scientists, believe that something is wrong with GM foods—and perhaps that they pose a health risk.” Sunstein lists the organizations that have apparently endorsed the position that GM foods pose no risks to human health or the environment, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Medical Association and World Health Organization. And while Sunstein agrees that consumers “have a right to know,” unless these purported risks can be scientifically validated, “the argument for compulsory GM labels rests on weak foundations.” See Bloomberg, May 12, 2013.