Vermonters reacted with mixed emotions to the prospects that a U.S. Senate compromise on labeling GMO foods could impact a state law due to take effect this week.
The law, effective July 1, would make Vermont the first state to require the majority of U.S. food products containing genetically engineered ingredients to bear labels that say “produced with genetic engineering.”
Industry groups have sued to block Vermont’s law, but have been unsuccessful so far. And some food companies have announced plans to begin shipping products with labels compliant with the law.
But in Congress, Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who chairs the Agriculture Committee, and Michigan’s Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the panel’s top Democrat, announced a deal that would require similar labeling nationwide but allow food companies to use text, a symbol or an electronic label accessed by smartphone. No significant action is expected on the proposal before the Vermont law goes into effect.
In the state, residents had opposing reactions.
A bar code-style label not readable by the naked eye drew the ire of some.
At the Tulsi Tea Room, a vegetarian restaurant specializing in locally produced, organic food, manager Fiona Sullivan said needing a smartphone to read food labels “sounds very classist. You’d have to own a smartphone, for one thing, and you’d need to be educated to a certain degree.”
“It’s another example of big money blocking change that needs to take place,” she said.
But Brenda Steady, who stopped in at the Middle Road Market in Minton for a turkey grinder for lunch, said she was not worried about whether any of its ingredients was made with genetic engineering.
“I think it’s horrible,” Steady, a Democrat, said of the law passed by a Legislature and signed by a governor of her party in 2014. “It’s another way to micromanage small business. If people want to know what is in their products, they can go on Google and check them out.”
Meanwhile, Campbell’s Soup and General Mills announced months ago they would begin shipping products with labels compliant with Vermont’s law. Spokesmen for both companies said Friday they support the federal labeling proposal.
“We need consistency across the country. And without this national solution, we risked having a system of 50 different regulations impacting our packages,” General Mills’ Mike Siemienas said.
Tom Hushen of Campbell’s said the company has “already printed and shipped to comply with Vermont’s law”
“We will continue to comply with Vermont’s law until Congress and the president enact legislation that preempts and replaces it,” Hushen said. “With or without new federal legislation, the Vermont label will continue to appear on shelves across most of the country and well into the future.”