MONTPELIER — Vermont lawmakers, both here and in the nation’s capital, are celebrating a failed attempt at the federal level to nullify the state’s food labeling bill.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate failed to come up with enough votes for a bill that would prohibit state’s such as Vermont from enacting laws requiring food manufacturers to disclose ingredients that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who led the charge against the proposed federal legislation, celebrated the vote.
“This was a hard-fought victory for Vermont, on our state’s right to honor Vermonters’ right to know what’s in the food they buy,” Leahy said. “Our defense of Vermont’s law has been fought with skill and determination in the courts, under the leadership of Governor Shumlin and others, and in the Congress.”
Leahy was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“I am pleased that Congress stood up to the demands of Monsanto and other multi-national food industry corporations and rejected this outrageous bill,” Sanders said. “Today’s vote was a victory for the American people over corporate interests.”
Falko Schilling, consumer and environmental advocate for Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), praised the senators who worked to block the proposed federal legislation.
“This bill is just one more example of how many in Washington put corporate special interests ahead of the public interest,” Schilling said. “We urge all members of Congress to stand with the 90 percent of Americans who want to know if their food is produced with genetic engineering.”
In 2014, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Act 120, which requires most food sold in Vermont to include a label disclosing if it contains GMOs. The law is scheduled to go into effect in July.
Currently, the law is also the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is seeking to block the law. Advocates on both sides are awaiting a decision from the court.
On Wednesday, Shumlin blasted Congress for its attempt to supersede the Vermont labeling law.
“This is a Congress, led by the Republicans, that believes in state rights, that believes in smaller federal government, until it comes to matters that affect either a woman’s right to plan for her own health care choices, or until it’s against Monsanto and the large food companies in America that don’t want you to know what’s in your food,” Shumlin said.
Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, who sponsored the Senate version of the labeling bill, decried the lack of “transparency” desired by some members of the U.S. Senate.
“It’s very interesting in this day and age when we all talk about the need for transparency, and yet, somehow, in Congress, they want to not be transparent about our most fundamental thing, which is our food,” Zuckerman said.
A common criticism of Vermont’s labeling law is that it will be onerous for food manufacturers to comply with a patchwork of laws that vary from state to state. Rep. Kathryn Webb, D-Shelburne — who sponsored the House bill that led to the state’s labeling law — said the solution to the “patchwork problem” is simple.
“This could be handled very easily by creating a national standard,” Web said.
In fact, last week, Leahy introduced legislation to do exactly that, a move that would see the United States join 64 other nations that require GMO labeling.
Shumlin said he would support a national standard as long as it didn’t weaken current law in Vermont.