NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In what could be a big win for opponents of genetically modified organisms, Vermont is one step closer to signing into law legislation that would require food companies to label products that contain GMOs in the Green Mountain State.
On Wednesday, the Vermont State Senate passed "An Act Relating to the Labeling of Food Produced with Genetic Engineering," H. 112, by a vote of 28-2. The state legislation, introduced in January 2013, proposes to provide that "food is misbranded if it is entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering and it is not labeled as genetically engineered." Sen. David Zuckerman is the bill's lead sponsor, according to the Brattleboro Reformer.
The bill will now go back to the House to approve the Senate's amendments and then to Gov. Peter Shumlin to sign into law. The act is supposed to become effective on July 1, 2016, according to Reuters.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals that cannot occur in natural crossbreeding, according to the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization dedication to the education of GMOs and helping consumers find alternatives and considered the main organization used by many companies to verify their non-GMO foods.
According to Right to Know GMO - A Coalition of States, more than two dozen states have legislation introduced related to GMO labeling efforts. Only two so far have passed bills into law -- Maine and Connecticut -- but both laws require other states to sign on before enactment.
According to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Vermont's bill also makes it illegal to call any food product containing GMOs "natural" or "all natural." Vermont's legislation contains no "trigger" clauses like Maine and Connecticut, said the association, because it doesn't require other states to pass GMO labeling laws before it can be enacted.
"Today, consumers and a number of principled legislators in Vermont made it clear to Monsanto (MON), Coca-Cola (KO) and other opponents of consumers' right to know: We will not back down. This movement is here to stay," Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), said in a statement.
That said, the bill doesn't come without controversy. Included in the legislation is the requirement to establish a $1.5 million legal fund for state attorney general expenses related to potential litigation, according to the Brattleboro Reformer. The OCA expects Monsanto to sue to Vermont in order to prevent enactment of H.112.
"The OCA has worked closely over the past several years with the pro-labeling grassroots movement in Vermont," Cummins said. "Today we congratulate Vermont activists for their passionate pursuit of this law, Vermont lawmakers for having the courage to pass the law, and Vermont citizens for being the first in the country to have the benefit of GMO labels on their food. And we reaffirm our commitment to work with Oregon and other states to pass similar laws, and to fight any and all attempts by industry and/or Congress to overturn these laws."
Last week federal legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives that opponents said will strip states of their right to pass GMO labeling laws. The bill, "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014," H.R. 4432, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) would "establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients, giving sole authority to the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients," according to a joint release by the two congressman.
"The legislation takes an approach that is far better than a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling laws that could mislead consumers, raise the price of groceries for American families and yet do nothing to advance food safety," the release said.
Recently a growing number of companies are publicly taking a stand against GMOs including Chipotle (CMG), Annie's (BNNY), Whole Foods Market (WFM), Hain Celestial (HAIN) and Smart Balance's parent company Boulder Brands (BDBD). Last week, B&G Foods (BGS) announced that its Polaner All Fruit spreadable fruit product is free from GMOs and certified by the Non-GMO Project.
--Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.