Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, expressed gratitude that a vote failed in the United States Senate, on a bill that could have undone his state's work to become the first in the nation to require food labels that reveal the presence of genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs.
"We have won this battle, but we have not won the war," Shumlin said Wednesday, after the vote's failure meant Vermont's labeling law could stand. "As Vermont goes, the rest of the nation shall follow."
Starting July 1, Vermont will require food labels to say if ingredients were bio-engineered in laboratories. Many makers of packaged foods rely on GMOs to improve efficiency of production.
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However, a push in the Senate, led by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, would have barred states like Vermont from setting their own labeling requirements. Roberts suggested national, voluntary labeling guidelines would be better than a patchwork of individual state rules.
"Today, our decision is about whether or not to prevent a wrecking ball from hitting our entire food supply chain," Roberts warned on the floor of the Senate, before the vote.
Roberts said many farm groups and food makers want to see the Vermont law halted, including growers of corn and soybeans in his state, claiming those farmers could be discouraged from seeking more efficient methods of production if companies buying their crops had to jump through hoops to label products containing certain ingredients.
Roberts argued if states were to establish varying rules on GMO labeling, food manufacturers and distributors would find it onerous to respond to different expectations from different states. Consumers could thus face higher food costs, Roberts predicted.
However, Vermont advocates for more information on food labels dismissed Roberts' claims.
Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden County, noted if food companies can change labels seasonally, like to put Santa Claus on soda cans at Christmastime, surely they can adjust to new labeling requirements with little or no impact on their operations.
Shumlin praised Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, for his behind-the-scenes work to encourage colleagues to reject the measure that would have blocked Vermont from enacting the law.
Leahy issued a statement about Wednesday's vote against the bill, calling the notion of a bill that attempted to roll back Vermont's labeling law "hasty" and "short-sighted."
"We are not asking manufacturers to change their production processes," Leahy noted in the written statement. "We are simply asking them to tell consumers what is in the products that go on store shelves. Vermont has led the way in this debate, as our state has in so many important national issues. This is a significant and hard-fought victory for Vermont, but this fight is not yet over."
GMO labeling advocate Andrea Stander, of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition, agreed that more fights likely lie ahead for Vermont's labeling law.
Stander said all over the country, passionate consumers are demanding to know what is in their shopping carts, and that those voices leaned on U.S. Senators to help defeat the bill’s advancement Wednesday.
"I think people feel food is so fundamental to their daily lives," Stander told necn. "They have the right to know what they're consuming, and particularly what they're feeding to their kids."
Stander said additionally, many advocates for labels on products containing bio-engineered ingredients remain deeply suspicious of corporate interests that aim to block the implementation of labeling laws.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who is also seeking the Democrats' nomination for the White House, shared concerns over corporate interests.
"I am pleased that Congress stood up to the demands of Monsanto and other multi-national food industry corporations and rejected this outrageous bill," Sanders wrote in a statement to Vermont news organizations. "Today's vote was a victory for the American people over corporate interests."
Sanders went on to say that United States citizens overwhelmingly want more information on the food their families consume, and noted GMO labeling exists in 64 other countries. "There is no reason it can't exist here," Sanders wrote.
Shumlin also pointed to two big national brands, Cheerios and Campbell's Soup, for how they are providing more information to consumers through labeling their products. He argued if major consumer products like those can make GMO food labeling work for them, a lot of other companies surely can, too.