By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
MONTPELIER, Vt. — While lawmakers in the state House on Wednesday voted 114-30 to require the labeling of genetically modified foods in Vermont, the bill’s top Senate sponsor admitted the labels likely won’t tell consumers if foods contain GMOs.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING: Sen. David Zuckerman admits a popular GMO labeling bill won’t tell consumers if foods contain GMOs.
“There’s two possible labeling phrases: ‘does contain genetically engineered organisms’ or ‘may contain genetically engineered organisms,’ state Sen. David Zuckerman, Progressive Democract-Chittenden, told Watchdog.org.
“One of the criticisms was, that by simply stating ‘may contain GMOs,’ the label is not giving consumers specific information. In other words, ‘Is it GMO corn?’ That would be important to some … I agree, I wish it could be more specific.”
Zuckerman, an organic vegetable farmer and national leader against GMOs, said while it would be ideal if food producers could verify that foods contain GMOs, the cost of testing is too high. As a result, H.112 allows food manufacturers to forgo testing and instead place “may contain” GMOs on product labels.
State Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, who voted against the legislation, objected to a GMO labeling bill that doesn’t tell consumers if food actually contains GMOs.
“A company doesn’t have to know if it’s GMO? They can simply put on the label, ‘This may contain GMO products’?” Flory asked Zuckerman during a recent Senate debate.
“It’s not a requirement of any company to ascertain all the different ingredients,” Zuckerman replied.
The scrutiny comes late as the bill now heads to the governor consideration.
A tweet posted on Gov. Peter Shumlin’s Twitter account Wednesday read, “The Leg. has spoken: Vt’ers deserve to know what is in their food. I agree and look forward to signing the GMO labeling bill into law.”
While the public has been slow to learn of the language loophole, one senator told Watchdog.org the bill is highly misleading.
“I don’t have a problem with telling people what’s in their food — but this doesn’t tell them what’s in their food. It’s very deceptive,” said state Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin. “It does nothing to educate the public, and if the state loses in court — which I feel we probably will — we’ll spend between $6 million and $8 million, and we will not get labeling.”
Zuckerman said he expects the food industry to sue the state if the bill becomes law.
“I would be very surprised if we were not sued, because once one state does it, if they’re not sued, then I think it will roll across the country in a heartbeat.”
Although Maine and Connecticut have GMO labeling laws, Vermont’s bill is controversial because it lacks a “trigger” that would hold the law in limbo until other states pass the same law, allowing for a multi-state defense in court. Maine and Connecticut enacted triggers to avoid costly lawsuits.
Zuckerman told Watchdog.org he helped strip triggers from an early House version of the bill.
“That’s a place where I think my work was pertinent to the bill. When I got here in January, I made it very clear to leadership that I could not support a bill that had a trigger that relies on other states,” he said. “So I worked very hard with my colleagues to either have no triggers, which we ended up with, or have a trigger that was based on state action, not other states’ action.”
While triggers and lawsuits were discussed Wednesday during the House debate, lawmakers passed the bill by an overwhelming majority — to loud applause in the Capitol.
“It’s a celebratory day,” Zuckerman told Watchdog. “The House passed the Senate-adjusted version and it’s on its way to the governor, who indicated in a statement today that he looks forward to signing the bill.”
Contact Bruce Parker at email@example.com