Would you know if you were eating genetically modified food? Many Vermonters say they want laws passed to require companies to disclose when they use technology to alter their products. Potatoes, potato chips, milk, fruits, veggies and more GMOs can be found everywhere. A proposed bill would require companies to clearly mark foods that have been genetically modified. But Vermont's attorney general says this could get the state into a sticky lawsuit.
"Don't GMO me bro," said Al Walskey of Bershire as the crowd laughed.
Although laughter filled the packed House chamber at the Statehouse Thursday night, it was a serious night of testimony. The topic: genetically modified food.
"I am concerned and want to know what's in my food. And I would imagine that most legislators are also concerned and they would want to know what is in their food," said Alton Smith of Wolcott.
Dozens gave testimony in front of two Senate committees, regarding a bill that would require foods with GMOs to label accordingly.
Most of the corn and soy crops grown in the U.S. come from GMO seeds, which are engineered to resist insects and herbicides. The FDA says they are indistinguishable from non-GMO foods, so they don't have to be labeled. And labeling opponents say doing so would wrongly imply the foods are unsafe.
The Vermont House passed a bill last year requiring GMO labeling by July 2015, and now it's up to the Senate. Hundreds turned up for the public testimony, many voicing concerns about health risks from genetically modified foods.
"Ladies and gentleman, in light of serious unsettled questions about the safety of GM foods and associated herbicide use, I submit that the Vermont market must have information at the retail level as soon as possible to work correctly," said Timothy O'Dell of Corinth.
Many also testified against the proposed trigger clauses. These proposed clauses could mean this law would only go into effect after other states have done the same.
"I beg you to pass the labeling law without a trigger regardless of what other states are going to do," said Sylvia Smith of South Strafford.
Everyone who testified Thursday was in favor of requiring GMO labeling. But even if passed, this bill may hit a major snag.
"I think it's very likely that we would be sued, very likely," said Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.
Sorrell says requiring companies to label their product is a violation of Freedom of Speech and Vermont would be sued by some big players.
"Very large and wealthy corporation or corporations and organizations with a great deal of expense for attorneys' fees-- so estimates are clearly in the millions of dollars; $5 million is not a wild estimate of what Vermont would have to pay if Vermont is sued successfully," said Sorrell.
Sorrell is scheduled to testify before the Legislature Friday, warning lawmakers about the costly risk of litigation. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on the bill Friday, which would then send it to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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