In 2014, Vermont became the first state to pass a GMO labeling law for packaged foods that would not require action by other states before it could be executed. The opposition from the food industry and some  legislators has been fierce. The law has been the subject of several lawsuits and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to overturn it. That bill was ultimately rejected by the U.S. Senate.

Today, July 1, Vermont's GMO labeling law goes into effect. Still, leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee hope to bring another bill that would preempt it to the Senate floor for a vote. This bill would not only overturn Vermont’s law, it would prevent other states from enacting or carrying out their own GMO labeling laws. The bill would require the Department of Agriculture to set a national GMO labeling standard in two years, but it would allow food manufacturers to provide information about GMOs through a QR code that you must scan with a smartphone or a toll-free phone number on the products’ labels rather than on-package labeling. The Vermont GMO labeling law requires that manufacturers mark their products on their labels as “produced with genetic engineering” or “partially produced with genetic engineering.” Surveys have found that consumers overwhelmingly prefer on-package labeling.

The Food and Drug Administration released a Technical Assistance paper on the Senate’s proposed bill that points to some problems with it. Among other things, the FDA notes that the bill would give the USDA “authority over food labeling that is otherwise under the FDA’s sole regulatory jurisdiction” and that the agency is “concerned that the USDA’s regulations . . . could conflict with FDA’s labeling requirements.” 

Several large packaged food companies have begun to label their GMO-containing products in advance of the Vermont GMO labeling law deadline, both in the state and nationwide. We've spotted labels on products in supermarkets outside Vermont from General Mills, Pepsi, and Mars. But some companies might just choose not to market their products in Vermont. For example, as the Consumerist reported, Coca-Cola announced that it will temporarily stop sending some of its “less-popular” products to the state.

On June 29, a procedural/test vote on the Senate bill passed 68-29. We expect a cloture vote—in which 60 senators would have to vote "yes" to bring the bill to a final vote—as soon as Wednesday, July 6, after the Senate returns from the 4th of July holiday, with a possible final vote on Friday.

Consumer Reports has supported mandatory, on-package, easy-to-use GMO labeling, believing that consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. If you do too, you can call 855-977-1770 to reach your senators and let them know.