On May 8, Vermont became the first state to require labeling on foods containing genetically modified organisms. The bill signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin in Montpelier will go into effect in July 2016, giving time for rules and guidelines to be produced. However, while many people are hopeful about this new bill, it is already being met with much opposition and will undoubtedly prove to be a piece of controversial legislation.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have become an increasingly more prevalent contribution to foods on grocery store shelves across the country. Produce containing GMOs undergoes DNA modifications, which develop different genetic traits in the altered organism during growth. These genetic alterations are carried out to enhance plants’ traits, making a harvest more successful.
Those in favor of the use of GMOs in produce state that making these alterations increases the production and quality of the crop. Due to the larger harvest yield made possible by altering plants with GMOs, the rising cost of food can also be deferred. Also, supporters of GMOs in food production claim that genetic alterations can make produce more nutritious.
Those who oppose the use of GMOs find genetic alterations to fruits, vegetables and grains to be unnatural and also under-researched. Current studies have not been able to provide conclusive results regarding the effects of GMOs on the environment or the consumer, making the safety of this genetic alteration unknown.
As it is nearly impossible to distinguish natural produce from its genetically modified counterparts, the need to create a GMO label for produce has become increasingly more pressing. Vermont has begun to address this issue and take action, joining the ranks of 64 other countries that currently require GMO labeling.
The Pros and Cons of GMOs
This bill titling Vermont as the first state to sign GMO documentation was met with much celebration in Montpelier, as more than 300 supporters gathered at the state capitol building when the bill was signed. In honor of this progressive piece of legislation, the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s attended the post-signing celebration, handing out free scoops of GMO-free Cherry Garcia and Milk and Cookies. While many Vermont residents hope that this new bill will bring about a positive change in how foods are labeled, this legislation is already under much attack and scrutiny, and may even be opposed in court.
Several organizations and companies are against the bill’s passage, and have even threatened to take legal action against the state of Vermont, in hopes of curtailing the process of making the bill into a law. One organization in particular, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, plans to file a lawsuit in order to halt the bill. This group is in strong opposition to requiring GMO labeling, claiming the use of GMOs is a harmless nonissue in food production. This association is against the changes in consumerism they believe will incur as shoppers become more informed about how certain food items are produced. It and others who are against the bill are confident that this legislation will drive consumers to buy only certified organic foods, or get into organic gardening to avoid purchasing produce containing GMOs.
Vermont Gov. Shumlin, aware of the controversy surrounding this law and the legal opposition it will face, announced to supporters a way to help keep the bill alive. Shumlin has encouraged all in favor of this legislation to visit the website www.foodfightfundvt.org to learn more, and also to raise funds which will help cover the legal fees that this controversial bill will surely accrue.
As this bill is both further developed and contested, the future of Vermont’s GMO labeling is still uncertain. However, we can rest assured that while this may be the first state to take action concerning genetically modified organisms, it won’t be the last.