Vermont’s food fight over mandatory GMO labelling

Watch above: There’s a push to make GMO labelling mandatory. Allison Vuchnich travelled to Vermont, where consumers and the state government have taken a big lead.

Vermont is known for its lush rolling hills, unique farm stands and local food markets, but the Green Mountain State is now home to a big legal battle.

In May, Vermont became the first US state to pass a mandatory genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, labelling law.

Effective July 1, 2016, all products containing GMO ingredients must say so.

The state’s push for mandatory labelling was initiated by the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition.

READ MORE: Meet Rachel Parent — the teen fighting for GMO labelling in Canada

Will Allen co-manages Cedar Circle Farms with his wife Kate Duesterberg. They have been actively involved in sustainable agriculture and food activism for decades.

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Allen explained how he and a coalition lobbied the Vermont government for mandatory GMO labelling.

“We have the right to know how much fat. We have the right to know how much salt. We have the right to know, you know, what the caloric level of foods is and we felt like we also have the right to know if something is genetically modified,” Allen said.

WATCH: Will Allen, an organic farm manager, explains how he and a coalition lobbied the Vermont government for mandatory GMO labelling

“Sixty-four other countries already label. It wasn’t like well we’re doing this here and no one else is doing it.”

However, not all farmers feel mandatory labelling of GMOs is good idea.

Bill Rowell and his brother Brian co-own the Green Mountain Dairy Farm in Sheldon, VT.

WATCH: Dairy farmer Bill Rowell, believes in biotechnology and thinks mandatory GMO labelling is not needed

Rowell believes genetically engineered crops are safe, regulated and necessary in order to keep up with population growth. Both Health Canada and the U.S. FDA say GMO crops are safe.
“I very firmly believe that the labelling is the result of an underlying motive and part of an agenda to target GMOs and assign a stigma to them,” Rowell said.

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“With the label, you now identify them, and therefore it will stay on the shelf because you’ve instilled fear. The fear mongers have instilled a certain amount of question or fear in the consumer and that’s the way they intend to get rid of the GMOs.”

The bill’s passage isn’t coming easy to tiny Vermont.

The law is being challenged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers.

The GMA stated in a news release, “Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law – Act 120 – is a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers. Act 120 exceeds the state’s authority under the United States Constitution and in light of this, GMA has filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont seeking to enjoin this senseless mandate.”

WATCH: Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell on why Vermont passed the mandatory GMO labelling bill and the lawsuit it now faces

Leading the battle is Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

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Sorrell says Vermont could have a long and costly fight ahead of them.

“All eyes were open,” said Sorrell, adding “I testified in the legislature that we were likely to be sued, that it was going to cost millions of dollars to defend the law and if we lost it would cost even more than that. Said I’m ready, willing and able to put together a great team to fight this fight if you want this to be the law of Vermont and they did, and so we are in the early stages on the fight and we’re ready for it.”

“It’s a big case. I want to win it.”

Global News is airing a four-part series on GMOs and labelling, and the food fight over consumers’ right to know what they are eating. Allison Vuchnich’s reports air on Global National Oct. 6 – Oct. 9.

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