May 8 Vermont on Thursday became the first U.S.
state to mandate labeling of foods made with genetically
modified organisms as Governor Peter Shumlin signed a law that
is widely expected to be challenged in court by some food and
The law, set to take effect July 1, 2016, would for the
first time align at least a small part of the United States with
more than 60 other countries that require labeling of
genetically engineered foods. And it sets the stage for more
than two dozen other states that are currently considering
mandatory labeling of such GMO foods.
"Vermonters will have the right to know what's in their
food," Shumlin told cheering supporters in a speech on the state
House steps. "We are pro-information. Vermont gets it right with
Shumlin said the state had set up a "food fight fund" to
take online donations to help defend the law from litigation
expected to be filed by food industry interests to block the
Consumer groups and lawmakers supporting such mandatory
labeling say there is no scientific consensus on whether or not
genetically engineered crops are safe, and consumers should be
able to easily distinguish products containing GMOs so they can
avoid them if they wish.
The consumer sentiment has pushed a growing number of U.S.
food companies to start using non-genetically modified
ingredients for their products because of the consumer backlash
But the food and agriculture industries, including the
makers of genetically modified corn, soybeans, canola and other
crops widely used in packaged foods, are fighting mandatory
labeling of GMOs. They say their products are proven safe, and
that such labels will imply they are unsafe, confusing consumers
and increasing costs for consumers as well as farmers and food
"Scientific bodies and regulatory officials around the world
recognize that foods made from genetically modified (GM) crops
are as safe as their non-GM counterparts," said Cathleen
Enright, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry
Organization (BIO). "GM crops have enabled farmers to produce
more on less land with fewer pesticide applications, less water
and reduced on-farm fuel use."
BIO, a trade group whose members include Monsanto Co
, Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical Co,
and other biotech seed companies said food costs for an average
household would rise as $400 per year due to mandatory labeling.
BIO and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are backing a
proposed federal law that would nullify Vermont's labeling law
and any other mandatory labeling of GMOs in the United States.
Both sides of the debate claims science supports their
views. 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.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by