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Vt. Senate votes in favor of GMO labeling - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. Senate votes in favor of GMO labeling

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring GMO labeling, but the battle between food and biotech giants and GMO labeling advocates may just be beginning.

Only two state senators opposed the GMO labeling bill. Although those who championed and supported the bill cheered and celebrated, some say there still may be a long road ahead and lawmakers have a unique way to defend Vermont should a lawsuit happen.

Now that the bill has passed the Senate, the House has to consider the bill. If the bill makes it to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, and he signs it, the concern is Vermont could face a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

Some large food and biotech corporations have said that requiring labeling of foods is a violation of the First Amendment and a lawsuit could follow if the law is implemented.

"So we're gonna spend, between $1.5 to $5 million, and in the end the people who wanted labeling, may not get it," said Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin County.

An innovative defense fund could help to defray the cost to taxpayers. Lawmakers anticipate defending the legislation in court and have set up a $1.5 million legal fund for the Vermont attorney general's office. The money will come from several sources including the public. Individuals from all over the world would be able to contribute.

"Vermont has certainly had a history of pushing progressive legislation and not always winning. This is an interesting way to continue doing that without bearing all the cost of doing so," said Chery Hanna, a Vermont Law School professor. 

Vermont spent more than $2 million defending the state's campaign finance and data mining laws and lost. Advocates are confident Vermont's fight for GMO labels resonates beyond the Green Mountains.

"It's something that consumers all across the country are demanding and that people are interested they want to know what's in their food for a number of reasons, and this is going to give them that information," said Falko Schilling from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Shumlin has expressed support for the concept of GMO labeling, but has said before he saw some problems with the bill. If he signs, it could pave the way for other states to implement GMO labeling. Connecticut and Maine have also passed labeling laws but have delayed implementation until other states join, a tactic to avoid lawsuits of their own. 

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