Montpelier, VT—The Vermont legislature overwhelmingly passed a law requiring foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to say so on the label. The state’s governor, Peter Shumlin, vowed to sign the bill, which will become the first to independently require GMO labeling in the country. Connecticut and Maine have passed similar laws, but those will only take effect once neighboring states also pass GMO-labeling laws.

Foods sold in Vermont will have to abide by the law by July 1, 2016. Notably, the bill would make it illegal for GMO foods to be described as “natural” or “all-natural” on the label. The law tasks the state’s Attorney General with forming the specifics of the labeling rule and carrying out enforcement.

Under the law, labels on GMO foods must include one of the following phrases: “partially produced with genetic engineering,” “may be produced with genetic engineering,” or “produced with genetic engineering.” The law also gives the Attorney General the option of requiring a special disclaimer to go along with the above phrases. This disclaimer would specify to consumers that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider GMO foods to be materially different from other foods.

The state fully expects to be sued by the biotech industry, namely Monsanto, over its new law, and funds were specifically included in the bill to pay for this legal defense. GMO-labeling activists are also wary of a new federal bill introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, called the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” which would prohibit state laws such as Vermont’s that mandate GMO labeling.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2014 (online 4/25/14)