Vermont lawmakers are poised to "boldly go where no other state has gone before," Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said Thursday before casting his vote for an unprecedented food-labeling law.
The Senate Judiciary Committee gave H.112 unanimous approval Thursday. The bill would require the labeling of food made with genetically modified ingredients sold in Vermont.
As drafted, Vermont's bill would apply to all food and drink sold in the state, except meat, milk and food sold in restaurants. After much discussion, committee members agreed it should also apply to chewing gum - but not chewing tobacco.
Lawmakers also agreed to establish a fund to cover the costs of implementing the law, including any legal challenge it might face.
"Maybe they won't sue," Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, quipped at one point while discussing the fund. "Maybe they'll say, 'Gee, Vermont, you're doing the right thing.'"
Sears said he absolutely expects a lawsuit - which is why establishing a funding mechanism to pay for litigation is so important in his view.
Benning also anticipates a lawsuit.
"I want to make it very clear I'm not voting for this bill because I have some passionate desire to slap Monsanto," Benning said. "This is, in my eyes, a simple request that I have the right to know what's in my product when I buy it. No more, no less."
The legislation previously won the support of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. It heads next to Appropriations before it goes to the Senate floor. Should it pass there, a conference committee would be needed to reconcile the bill with the version that passed the House in 2013.
If it becomes law, the Attorney General's Office would begin rule-making immediately. Labeling requirements would take effect July 2016.