Vermont will likely be the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified organisms.
Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday he will sign Vermont's GMO labeling bill into law. His announcement came just minutes after the House gave H.112 final legislative approval by a 114-30 vote.
"I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food," Shumlin said in a statement. "Vermont has led the local food movement that is better connecting people nationwide with the food they eat."
The bill would take effect July 1, 2016. Other states have labeling laws that go into effect when neighboring states pass similar policies.
Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, has been pushing for GMO labeling for much of his 14 years in the state Legislature.
"Vermont has now put a stake in the sand around food transparency, and it may well help create that across the country, much as we did with marriage equality and other historic measures," Zuckerman said.
The potential for litigation was among the top concern lawmakers opposing the bill raised on Wednesday. Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who anticipates a lawsuit,estimated the cost of litigation at $1 million if the state were to win. A loss would cost $5 million or more.
That's why the bill sets up a $1.5 million special fund reserved for defending the state in court. This money would be raised from state appropriations, private donations and settlement proceeds.
The majority of commodity crops sold in the U.S. are genetically engineered. Corn, soybeans and cotton used in many packaged snack foods, sweeteners and cereals contain genetically modified organisms.
The biotechnology industry, which manufactures genetically engineered food products, opposes Vermont's legislation.
"Any law requiring the labeling of foods that contain GMO ingredients creates extra costs for farmers, food manufacturers, distributors, grocers, and consumers," said Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for Biotechnology Industry Organization.
"The bill in Vermont is especially problematic because it puts these additional burdens solely on Vermont's citizens," she said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 25 states have introduced GMO labeling bills this year.
Animal products would not be covered by the legislation. But the Vermont Attorney General's Office will report back to lawmakers next session on whether to require dairy products to be labeled.
A VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute poll shows that 79 percent of Vermonters support GMO labeling.