The Vermont Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to legislation that will require manufacturers to label foods with genetically engineered raw ingredients.
The vote was 28-2, with two Republican senators voting against the bill.
If H.112 is enacted, Vermont will be the first state in the nation to require labeling of genetically modified organisms. The law would go into effect on July 1, 2016.
GMOs are used in more than 80 percent of processed foods - such as sweeteners, cereals, oils and snack foods - according to federal regulators.
The effect of GMOs on human health is unclear, but Vermont lawmakers say the bill is about a consumer's right to know what they purchase.
"It's about consumer information. Period," said Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, the lead sponsor of the Senate's bill.
The bill includes exemptions for animal products, but asks the Attorney General to report back to lawmakers with a recommendation whether to label dairy products containing GMOs.
Bill Sorrell, the Vermont Attorney General, anticipates constitutional challenges from biotech industry. The bill sets up a $1.5 million special fund for legal challenges funded through private donations, state appropriations, and settlements. Sorrell estimates it would cost $1 million to win a case, but if the state lost, the cost could be $5 million or more.
Some lawmakers say scientific evidence linking GMOs to adverse human health impacts is inconclusive.
"It's a scare tactic as far as I'm concerned," said Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, who uses GMO products on his farm. "I believe it's a lot of misinformation."
Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, joined McAllister in voting against the bill.
"I haven't received any scientific information that GMOs are bad," Flory said. "I have received scientific information - as well as from the World Health Organization, AMA (American Medical Association), and various other organizations - stating that there is no indication at all that GMOs are harmful."