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Montpelier, Vt. - Vermont lawmakers have passed the country's first state bill to require the labeling of genetically modified foods, underscoring a division between powerful lobbyists for the U.S. food industry and an American public that overwhelmingly says it approves of the idea.
The Vermont House approved the measure Wednesday evening, about a week after the state Senate, and Gov. Peter Shumlin said he plans to sign it. The requirements would take effect July 1, 2016, giving food producers time to comply.
Shumlin praised the vote. "I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food," he said in a statement.
Genetically modified organisms - often used in crop plants - have been changed at their genetic roots to be resistant to insects, germs or herbicides. The development in Vermont is important because it now puts the U.S. on the map of governments taking a stance against a practice that has led to bountiful crops and food production but has stirred concerns about the dominance of big agribusiness and the potential for unforeseen effects on the natural environment. Some scientists and activists worry about potential effects on soil health and pollination of neighboring crops.
Twenty-nine other states have proposed bills this year and last to require genetically modified organism - or GMO - labeling. Two other New England states have passed laws to require GMO labeling, but the legislation takes effect only when neighboring states also approve the requirement. They are Maine and Connecticut; neither neighbor Vermont.
The European Union already has restricted the regulation, labeling and sale of GMO foods. Several credible polls have found that Americans overwhelmingly favor the notion of labeling genetically modified foods.
But the industry is opposed.
"It sets the nation on a costly and misguided path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will do nothing to advance the safety of consumers," the grocers' association said in a statement.
The association is disappointed that Vermont is going at it alone. Trying to have 50 different state rules about what goes on food packaging "gets very costly, very confusing and very difficult for the entire food industry to comply with," said the association's president, Jim Harrison.