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Despite Support, GMO Bill Seems Unlikely to Pass This Session

House lawmakers continue to consider a bill that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods sold at stores in Vermont, and co-ops and student groups gathered at the Statehouse in Montpelier today to show their support for the measure. But it appears the bill is unlikely to pass this session.

Last month, on an 8-3 vote, the House Agriculture Committee advanced the measure that supporters say would require “common sense” labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, but the bill has hit a snag in the House Judiciary Committee, which has a full plate this legislative session.

The Judiciary Committee will take up the GMO bill for the first time on Thursday morning, leaving lawmakers little time to move a bill to the House floor for a vote.

The bill has tri-partisan support in the Legislature and the somewhat tentative backing of Governor Peter Shumlin. “I believe that Vermonters and Americans should know when they buy their food what’s in it,” Shumlin said earlier this month, while admonishing lawmakers to write legislation that will hold up in court.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied several years ago a labeling law for artificial growth hormones in Vermont, and as a result Shumlin has expressed concern that the state is not prepared to test what would be the nation’s first GMO labeling law.

The circuit court decision, Shumlin said, “gave us a little bit of a rough ride on a similar discussion in Vermont,” so the governor wants to see a legally tight bill.

A survey of 1,400 members and customers of City Market Onion River Co-op in Burlington last spring found that 95 percent favored GMO labeling.

“Over the past few years, Vermont co-ops have increasingly heard from consumers wanting to know which foods in their stores have been genetically engineered,” a coalition of Vermont’s 17 food cooperatives said in a statement Wednesday. “In response, the co-ops have become the latest key player in the Vermont food system calling for more transparency on our store shelves by requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled.”