When University of Vermont student Danielle Piraina heads to the grocery store, she steers clear of certain labels.
"I avoid 'natural' because it's not regulated," Piraina said.
Last year, she started paying close attention to exactly what is in her food. It was then she realized the word natural can be thrown on any product, even if that product contains genetically-modified organisms like crops that have had changes to their DNA.
"They're totally fooled, I think the average consumer is," Piraina said.
So, she headed to Montpelier where lawmakers debated forcing companies to label food that contains GMOs and forbid others from using the word "natural."
"We're more concerned about the health issues here and particularly this type of fraud being perpetrated on people with the natural label," said Paul Burns of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
When you walk down the aisle in the grocery store, it's easy to find products with healthy buzz words like "homegrown," for example. You'll see products labeled "all natural" and it's easy to find products labeled "organic." But you'll see some companies starting to label products as "Non-GMO verified," even though there's no requirement for them to do so.
Gov. Peter Shumlin says this looks all too familiar.
"I would love to find a solution to the GMO labeling bill without repeating what we've been through before," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
Vermont tried to regulate labeling of dairy products containing growth hormones back in 1999. This led to a lawsuit the state lost at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, though many Vermont dairy operations opt to include that on their labels anyway.
"Having looked at the rBST bill this really is the same issue," said Jim Harrison of the Vermont Grocers' Association.
Harrison and Shumlin both stress this bill would not likely hold up in court. Harrison adds labeling regulations will likely cost everyone more money.
"We could potentially add enormous cost to the food manufacturers and subsequently to us as consumers," Harrison said.
He says Vermont should wait for a national bill instead, but advocacy for this bill is strong, which means it will likely get some attention when lawmakers return to the Statehouse.
Burns says the environmental group is working closely with Vermont Law School to make sure this bill will hold up in court. He says a new group of recently elected progressives will prioritize this bill early on in the session.
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