A law that would make Vermont the first U.S. state to enact mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, received final approval from state lawmakers on Wednesday and now heads to the governor's desk.
The Vermont House of Representative passed the bill 114-30. Last week, the Vermont Senate, by a vote of 28-2, approved the measure, which requires foods containing GMOs sold at retail outlets to be labeled as having been produced or partially produced with "genetic engineering."
"Vermont's leading the nation on this, giving consumers basic information about the food that they are eating," said Falko Schilling, a spokesman for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which backed the bill. "This is a model that the rest of the country can look to moving forward."
The Vermont bill also makes it illegal to describe any food product containing GMOs as "natural" or "all natural."
Unlike bills passed last year in Maine and Connecticut, which require other states to pass GMO labeling laws before they can be enacted, Vermont's contains no such trigger clause. The law would take effect July 1, 2016.
Backers said they expect Gov. Peter Shumlin to sign it. There was no immediate comment from the governor's office.
Vermont's effort comes as the developers of genetically modified crops and the $360 billion U.S. packaged food industry push for passage of a bill in Congress that would nullify any state law to require labeling of foods made with such crops.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than two dozen states are considering GMO labeling bills.
Some of the most widely-used U.S. GMO crops are corn, soybeans and canola, staple ingredients in packaged foods.
Backers of the Vermont bill said they expect the biotech industry to sue to stop enactment, and the bill includes the formation of a fund that could pay legal bills. Consumer groups say labeling is needed because of questions about the safety of GM crops for human health and for the environment.
Last October, a group of 93 international scientists said there was a lack of empirical and scientific evidence to support what they said were false claims by the biotech industry about a "consensus" on safety. It said more independent research is needed and studies showing safety tend to be funded and backed by the biotech industry.
GMO crop developers such as Monsanto and their backers say genetically modified crops have been overwhelmingly proven safe.