On Friday, the Senate Ag committee voted 4 -1 to support H.112, the GMO labeling bill, after making a few amendments. The amendments were mostly to tighten up the bill’s language in order to make it more legally defensible in case the state is sued by those who do not want labeling to happen anywhere in the country.
This vote came after a month of a variety of testimony, as well as a very well attended public hearing on Thursday evening. Everyday Vermonters, including: a scientist, a doctor, a Vietnam war veteran, a teacher, and many other professions, came out to testify in support of having labeling on processed foods that contain GMOs. In fact, only one person spoke against the bill -- and that was because he felt it did not go far enough!
The bill now moves on to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will be taken up shortly after Town Meeting day. It is likely that the bill will be amended by that committee to include a "trigger" clause that is different than most laws that we pass. Generally, laws go into effect either on a certain date or July 1st if a date is not specified. However, in other states that have moved GMO labeling legislation (Maine and Connecticut), they have included language that requires other states to enact similar laws before their bill will go in to effect.
At the hearing on Thursday, we heard loud and clear that a trigger dependent on other states is not supported by Vermonters. That's why I've worked hard to get a "reasonable" trigger in the bill that would enable Vermont to move forward alone, but at the same time, prepare us for legal costs if/when we are sued and if we lose that suit. The good news is there is a very reasonable legal argument that we would win and that the state has a right to require such labeling. But there has also been an argument made that we might lose and that it could cost the state upwards of $5,000,000 in legal fees. So the reasonable trigger that I came up with is to create a legal defense fund under the jurisdiction of the Treasurer. That fund could accept contributions from any (living) person (no corporations or other associations could contribute). Once that fund reached $5,000,000, the labeling bill would go into effect.
I am hopeful that we can pass a strong GMO labeling bill and that we will be able to work out our differences with the House version. It is an exciting day for Vermont and with any luck we will follow this success with more strong votes for this legislation in the Judiciary Committee and in the full Senate.