Vermont has become the first U.S. state to pass ground breaking legislation to require genetically modified labeling of products.
On the 1st of March 2013 the bill, known as the ‘VT Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act’, was passed by the Vermont House of Representatives. The bill was introduced by Representative Kate Webb of Shelburne on February 1st, 2012.
The bill is comprehensive and prohibits GMO food manufacturers from using promotional labels like “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or any words of similar import. The bill, requires strict and clear labeling on GMO-containing food items and can be accessed here. The wording states that in the case of a raw agricultural commodity, the label ‘genetically modified’ would be clearly visible. As for processed food products, the words ‘partially produced with genetic engineering’ or ‘may be partially produced with genetic engineering’ would appear prominently on the front or back of the package.
Monsanto appears to have repeatedly threatened to sue the state if if passed GM legislation.
The Act read in part:
Sec. 1. FINDINGS
The General Assembly finds and declares that:
(1) U.S. federal law does not provide for the necessary and satisfactory
regulation of the safety and labeling of food that contains genetically
engineered ingredients, as evidenced by the following:
(A) U.S. federal labeling and food and drug laws do not require
manufacturers of food produced from genetically engineered ingredients to
label such food as genetically engineered.
(B) As indicated by the testimony of Dr. Robert Merker, a U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) Consumer Safety Officer, the FDA does not
have statutory authority to require labeling of foods produced with genetic
BILL AS INTRODUCED H.112
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(C) The FDA has adopted a policy regarding 1 the labeling of food
produced from genetic engineering based on a conclusion that these products
are generally regarded as safe with no material difference from conventional
products. The FDA does not require genetically engineered foods to be labeled
(D) Instead of specifically regulating the safety and labeling of food
produced from genetic engineering, the FDA regulates genetically engineered
foods in the same way it regulates foods developed by traditional plant
breeding, but, according to Dr. James Maryanski, FDA biotechnology
coordinator (1985−2008), the decision to regulate genetically engineered food
in this manner was a political decision not based in science.
(E) Under its regulatory framework, the FDA does not test the safety
of genetically engineered foods independently. Instead, manufacturers submit
safety research and studies, the majority of which the manufacturers finance or
(F) There is a lack of consensus regarding the validity of the research
or science surrounding genetically engineered foods, or both. The result is
public uncertainty about the nutrition, health, safety, environmental impacts,
and the proliferation of genetic engineering technology that is not fully
understood or proven to be safe.
(G) There have been no long-term studies 1 in the United States that
examine the safety of human consumption of genetically engineered foods.
(2) Genetically engineered ingredients are increasingly present in foods
available for human consumption, as evidenced by the fact that:
(A) an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the processed foods sold in the
United States have at least one genetically engineered ingredient; and
(B) according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2011,
genetically engineered soybeans accounted for 94 percent of U.S. soybean
acreage, genetically engineered corn accounted for 88 percent of U.S. corn
acreage, and genetically engineered sugar beets accounted for 95 percent of
U.S. sugar beet acreage.
(3) Genetically engineered foods have an effect on health, safety,
agriculture, and the environment, as evidenced by the following:
(A) Independent studies in laboratory animals indicate that the
ingestion of genetically engineered foods may lead to health problems such as
gastrointestinal damage, liver and kidney damage, reproductive problems,
immune system interference, and allergic responses.
(B) Trends in commodity agricultural production practices are toward
monocultured crop production, which may result in genetic homogeneity, loss
of biodiversity, and increased vulnerability of crops to pests, diseases, and
variable climate conditions. Genetically engineered 1 crops are one tool used in commodity agricultural production.
(C) Genetically engineered crops that include pesticides may
adversely affect populations of butterflies and other nontarget insects.
(D) Organic food certification, which is generally construed not to
include ingredients produced from genetic engineering, can be adversely
affected by contamination from genetically engineered crops.
(E) Cross-pollination from genetically engineered crops may have an
adverse effect on wild plant species.
(F) The proliferation of patented genetically engineered crops
reduces the options of farmers who may want to save their own seed.
(4) Vermont and other states do have the authority to regulate the
labeling of genetically engineered foods as evidenced by the following:
(A) Under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the
U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v.
Paul, 373 U.S. 132 (1963), states may regulate the retail sale of food in the
interest of consumers when such regulation does not conflict with federal law.
(B) Under Holk v. Snapple Beverage Co., 575 F.3d 329 (3d Cir.19 2009), the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the FDA policy for
labels using the word “natural” do not preempt states from regulating the use
of the word “natural.”
(C) The Supreme Court, in Milavetz, 1 Gallop & Milavetz v. United
States, 130 S.Ct. 1324 (2010), reaffirmed the proposition, first expressed in
Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626 (1985), that “an
advertiser’s [First Amendment] rights are adequately protected as long as
disclosure requirements are reasonably related to the State’s interest in
preventing deception of consumers.”
(D) Under current First Amendment jurisprudence, expressed in
National Electric Manufacturers Assn. v. Sorrell, 272 F.3d 104 (2d Cir. 2001),
states are free to compel the disclosure of factual commercial speech as long as the means employed by the State are rationally related to the State’s legitimate interest.
(E) The decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
in International Dairy Foods Ass’n v. Amestoy, 92 F.3d 67 (2d Cir. 1996), is
limited expressly to cases in which a state disclosure requirement is supported
by no interest other than gratification of consumer curiosity.
(5) For multiple personal, health, religious, and economic reasons, the
citizens of Vermont desire, require, and necessitate that food produced from
genetic engineering be labeled as such, as evidenced by the following:
(A) Public opinion polls conducted by the Center for Rural Studies at
the University of Vermont indicate that a large majority of Vermonters want
foods produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such.
(B) Given that 6 V.S.A. § 641(9) defines 1 “genetically engineered
seed” as “seed produced using a variety of methods . . . used to modify
genetically organisms or influence their growth and development by means
that are not possible under natural conditions or processes,” labeling foods
produced with genetic engineering as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally
grown,” “all natural,” or other descriptors of similar substance is inherently
misleading and poses a risk of confusing and deceiving consumers, and
conflicts with the general perception that “natural” foods are not genetically
(C) Vermont citizens with certain religious beliefs object to
producing foods using genetic engineering because of objections to tampering
with the genetic makeup of life forms and the rapid introduction and
proliferation of genetically engineered organisms and, therefore, need food to
be labeled as genetically engineered in order to conform to religious beliefs.
(D) Requiring that foods produced through genetic engineering be
labeled as such will create additional market opportunities for those producers
who are not certified as organic and whose products are not produced from
genetic engineering. Such additional market opportunities will contribute to
the vibrant and diversified agricultural community of Vermont.
(E) Labeling gives consumers information they can use to make
informed decisions about what products they would prefer to purchase.
(F) On March 12, 2012, the Vermont Congressional 1 Delegation,
along with 52 other members of Congress, sent a letter to the Honorable
Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the FDA, asking that the FDA require
labeling of food produced with genetic engineering.
(6) Because both the FDA and the U.S. Congress have failed to require
the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, the State should
exercise its authority to require food produced with genetic engineering to be
labeled as such in order to serve the legitimate interests of the State to prevent inadvertent consumer deception, promote food safety, respect religious beliefs, protect the environment, and promote economic development.
The legislation represents a breakthrough in the consumer efforts to mandate genetically modified labeling and underlines the FDA’s inadequacy and failure to represent the public’s interest.