Two local farmer-lawmakers see different sides on GMO bill

VERGENNES — A proposed law that would require manufacturers to label Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, was a key discussion point at Monday’s Legislative Breakfast in Vergennes.
The bill, known as H.112, passed the House Agriculture Committee by an 8-3 vote last Friday.
If endorsed by the Legislature and signed into law, H.112 would make Vermont the first state to require that products made with GMOs reveal that fact through labeling — a fact of great importance to farmers.
The legislation is now headed to the House Judiciary Committee for review before landing in the House for a floor vote.
Proponents of H.112 have called it a “right to know bill” that would give consumers a better idea of what is in the food they are consuming. Opponents — which have included corporate lobbyists — have called it unnecessary and very difficult to enforce.
Bristol resident Peter Grant said at the Vergennes breakfast that the United States should join many other countries in passing GMO labeling laws. And he believes Vermont could pave the way by passing H.112.
“This is not just a simple preference, which should be enough,” he wrote in a letter to the Legislature, which he distributed at Monday’s breakfast. “It is due to findings that some GMO-laced foods are harmful to people who eat them. We should be allowed to avoid harmful foods … by having them labeled for their ingredients, so consumers can freely choose for themselves.”
Reps. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, and Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, both serve on the House Agriculture Committee. Stevens voted in favor of H.112, while Smith voted against it.
Smith explained his vote.
“I do support the right of consumers to know what’s in their food, however on this particular piece of legislation, it’s going to be very difficult to follow that through,” Smith said.
He argued that “as food moves through the processing chain, it loses its genetic marker that tells you what it is. Or that it comes from genetically modified crops.”
He said the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have found no significant difference between GMO-related food and other food that is grown.
Smith is also concerned that H.112 might run afoul of Constitutional protections of free speech and that imposing a labeling requirement at the state level could pose a financial hardship on small-scale Vermont companies.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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