Vermont's GM labelling first

June 2014


Demonstrators hold placards aloft which read label GM food
March against Monsanto in Washington US, May 2014.
CC photo by Stephem Melkisethain on Flickr
On 8 May, the Governor of the US State of Vermont signed into existence a State Law which will require all GM ingredients to be labelled from July 2016. Foods so labelled will no longer be able to be called 'natural'.
 
Marking the importance of this first-of-its-kind law*, the occasion merited an outdoor signing ceremony.

*Unlike the bills passed last year in Maine and Connecticut, which require four or five other states to pass GMO labelling laws before they can be enacted, Vermont's law contains no "trigger" clauses.
 
Certainly no one in the US Government, biotech companies, nor food industry is underestimating the significance of this event.

Vermont may be the second smallest US State, but it has a history of major trend-setting initiatives. It was the first to ban slavery, the first to allow civil unions and same-sex marriage, and it had a good try at labelling milk produced using GMO-derived bovine growth hormone. Repercussions from the awareness raised by such actions are much more wide-ranging than the actions themselves.
 
This State is moving forward where others have failed because it is courageous enough to stand up to the might of the biotech companies, the food manufacturers, and the Federal Government, and has total respect for the democratic process.
 
Vermont Senators, originally sceptical of GM labelling, were persuaded by a flood of e-mails and calls from constituents urging them to pass the Bill. One, previously unenthusiastic, Senator said that at every public meeting “Lo and behold, GMOs would float to the top of the debate within those meetings”.
 
The Vermont administrators were very clear when they passed their GM labelling Bill that the State would be sued. Indeed, within 24 hours, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) started proceedings.
 
Estimations for Vermont's costs if it wins its case lie in the region of $1 million: if it loses, there could be $8 million to find. Already $1.5 million has been set aside from State funds to cover this, and a defense-fund for private donations has been created (www.foodfightfund.org).
 
The GMA, boasts amongst its 300 or so membership, the biggest brand food names such as Coca-Cola, Pepsico, General Mills, Kelloggs, Campbell's, Del Monte, Nestlé, Kraft, ConAgra, Unilever, and biotech giants Monsanto, DuPont, Dow AgroSciences, BASF, besides major retailers such as Safeway and Wal-Mart. GMA members, combined, have some 6,000 products on the market. Most of these products may be GM or have GM links: they include not only food and beverages, but home and garden supplies.
 
This a formidable array of enemies for a tiny State to take on.
 
And, the GMA's lawsuit isn't the only attack underway on GM labelling. The Association has been frantically working in Washington to change Federal laws so that States can neither make GM labelling mandatory, nor prevent GM being passed off as natural. Its reason, of course, is profit (see below).
 

Reality check from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA):
 
“Let's be clear. Junk Food and beverage companies who are members of the GMA are gobbling up organic and “natural” brands because they recognize the huge profit potential in the fast-growing organic and natural markets. If (people) stop buying their brands ... we might never look back”. 

The GMA-drafted Bill is, ironically, named the “Safe and Accurate Food Labelling Act of 2014”, but has been more meaningfully dubbed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know”, or “DARK”, Act.
 
So far, the US Food and Drug Administration has declined to enter the fray, despite pleas from Big Biotech and Big Food. Perhaps the Government has learned a lesson from the public furore in 2013 when a clause, designed to give the biotech industry outrageous power and dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act”, was surreptitiously appended to another Farm Bill already under consideration. The offending clause was removed after a large and vociferous grassroots rebellion, and a massive boycott action. Federal support for the DARK Act could trigger something much worse.
 
Also, Vermont is not likely to be alone for long. The momentum for labelling continues to gather speed in other States. Oregon is expected to put a GM-labelling Bill to the ballot on 4th November this year, and rumours have it that Colorado is moving in the same direction. More than two dozen States are currently considering GM labelling laws.
 
Labelling of GM foods in the US will, of course, have global repercussions.
 
Leverage from on-going behind-closed-doors international trade agreements* could be used to pull countries (including EU Member States) into line with whatever's happening in America. The success of initiatives such as that of Vermont could be vital in mainaining the transparency Europe currently enjoys regarding the GM content in our food.
 
*Trade agreements in progress include the 'Trans-Pacific Partnership' and the 'Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership' which will, amongst other things enable multi-national corporations to sue and over-ride local and national laws on matters such as GMOs, food safety, and country of origin labelling.
 
As Monsanto admitted 20 years ago “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it”. And this may be even more true today than it was then. 
 
WHAT YOU CAN DO
 
If you have friends, relatives or colleagues in America, make sure they're aware of the DARK threat to their right to know what they're eating.  
 
They might also be interested to join the OCA boycott of GMA members' products. To this end the OCA has produced a “Buycott” app and wallet-size guide to help consumers identify which products should be black-listed.  
 
 
 
SOURCES  
  • Vermont Senate votes 26-2 for GMO labelling, Burlington Free Press, 15.04.14
  • Vermont Lawmakers Pass Country's First No-Strings-Attached GMO Labeling Law, Organic Consumers' Association Statement 16.04.14
  • Ronnie Cummins, Monsanto and Big Food Losing the GMO and 'Natural' Food Fight, Organic Consumers Association, 16.04.14
  • John Herrick, Trade Group Vows to Sue over Vermont's GMO Labeling Law, www.vtdigger.org, 12.05.14
  • Ronnie Cummins, The Great Boycott: Monsanto and the GMA, Organic Consumers Association, 14.05.14
  • Dark Shadows, Organic Consumers Association, 12.06.14

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