I'm Proud Vermont is Leading the Nation On GMO Labeling

Let me begin by thanking all of you for doing what citizens should be doing in a democracy. And that is standing up, fighting back, getting involved in the political process and demanding that government represent all the people - and not just powerful special interests.

And that is exactly what you did with GMO labeling. As a Vermonter I am very proud that our state became the first state in the country to mandate labeling for food that contains GMO products. I am proud of the grass-roots activism that led to that legislation and proud of the support that the legislature and Governor Shumlin gave to that legislation. Your efforts show what happens when democracy works. The people at the grassroots level speak, state government responds and important legislation gets passed.

This legislation is important because people have a right to know what is in the food they and their children eat. The more information we have, the better consumers we become. This is not a radical idea. It is why over 60 countries around the world have passed GMO labeling laws. That is why the states of Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Alaska have passed legislation to mandate labeling of food that contains GMO products.

Unfortunately, the major agribusiness and bio-tech companies disagree. They do not believe people have a right to know what's in the food they eat. That is why they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions to overturn the GMO right-to-know legislation that states have already passed and that many other states are in the verge of passing.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which sued and lost in trying to stop Vermont’s law, has 34 lobbyists working on this issue alone. They spent $8.5 million lobbying between 2015, and in 2016 they have already spent $1.6 million in total lobbying. Monsanto has already spent $2 million in 2016 lobbying Congress.

The Environmental Working Group has calculated that food and biotech companies and trade associations have spent nearly $200 million to oppose state GMO labeling ballot initiatives like Act 120. When combined with Washington lobbying expenditures that mention GMO labeling, the total amount spent by labeling opponents is close to $400 million.

Their goal is to deny states the right to go forward in this area and to pass legislation that is useless and with no value to consumers. And, if we don't stop them, they may just succeed.

On Thursday evening, with no hearings and no debate, a corporate backed bill offered by Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was introduced on to the floor by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This legislation would create a confusing, misleading and unenforceable national standard for labeling GMOs. Instead of a uniform labeling standard like Vermont’s law, the language allows text, symbols, or an electronic code to be used. This is intentionally confusing to consumers, and the information may be entirely inaccessible if the consumer does not have access to the internet. The compromise language also allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rule on what percentage of GMO material is present in a particular food before it gets labeled, in contrast to Vermont and European Union standards, both which require products with more than 0.9% be labeled.

In addition, the bill contains huge loopholes in the labeling requirement, stating that there is no labeling requirement for GMO foods that could have occurred “through conventional breeding or found in nature.” Essentially, if the genetic engineering done by a company could have occurred in nature, there is no requirement to label it, which would prevent GMO corn, beet sugar, and soy oils from being labeled. FDA has confirmed this loophole, stating that with the language in the bill currently written “many of the foods from [Genetically Engineered] sources will not be subject” to labeling requirements.

Perhaps most shockingly, this bill imposes no penalties whatsoever for violating the labeling requirement, making the law essentially meaningless. Thus, this is a weak bill, full of loopholes, without any requirement to comply.

I find it interesting that many of my Republican colleagues, who tell us how terrible the federal government is, and how they want to get the federal government off the backs of the people, are now prepared to overturn the legislation passed in 4 states. Clearly, their belief in states rights is not quite equal to their need for corporate campaign contributions. Sadly, there are some Democrats in the same boat.

Needless to say I, and the Vermont delegation and many members of Congress will do everything in our power to defeat this terrible bill.