A law that would make Vermont the first U.S. state to enact mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, received final approval from state lawmakers on Wednesday and now heads to the governor's desk.
The Vermont House of Representative passed the bill 114-30. Last week, the Vermont Senate, by a vote of 28-2, approved the measure, which requires foods containing GMOs sold at retail outlets to be labeled as having been produced or partially produced with "genetic engineering."
"Vermont's leading the nation on this, giving consumers basic information about the food that they are eating," said Falko Schilling, a spokesman for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which backed the bill.
The Vermont bill also makes it illegal to describe any food product containing GMOs as "natural" or "all natural."
Unlike bills passed last year in Maine and Connecticut, which require other states to pass GMO labeling laws before they can be enacted, Vermont's contains no such trigger clause. The law would take effect July 1, 2016.
Backers of the law said they expect Governor Peter Shumlin to sign it. Shumlin's office did not immediately comment.
The developers of genetically modified crops and the $360 billion U.S. packaged food industry are pushing for passage of a bill in Congress that would nullify any state law to require labeling of foods made with such crops.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than two dozen states are considering GMO labeling bills.
Some of the most widely-used GM crops are corn, soybeans and canola, staple ingredients in packaged foods.
Consumer groups say labeling is needed because of questions about the safety of GM crops for human health and for the environment. Last October, a group of 93 international scientists said there was a lack of empirical and scientific evidence to support what they said were false claims by the biotech industry about a "consensus" on safety. It said more independent research is needed and studies showing safety tend to be funded and backed by the biotech industry.
GMO crop developers such as Monsanto and their backers say genetically modified crops have been overwhelmingly proven safe.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association said Wednesday it was evaluating whether to sue to try to stop "this misguided legislation." Consumers can buy organic foods if they want to avoid GMOs, the group said.
"GM crops are safe and have important benefits for people and our planet," the GMA said in a statement. "The government therefore has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients..."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Grant McCool)