House Finalizes GMO Labeling Bill; Senate Rethinks 'Super PAC' Caps

May 10, 2013

With the support of some members of the Vermont business community, the House on Friday morning finalized a bill to require labeling food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The vote was 99-42.

Hundreds of businesses and all 17 of the state’s food cooperatives have expressed their support for GMO labeling.

Opponents hoped to block the bill by arguing it would deter biotech companies from doing business in Vermont. They also said requiring labels would provoke a lawsuit from the dairy and biotech industries.

In the end, though, supporters dismissed those concerns, saying the bill would bolster Vermont’s brand by promoting food safety.

“When people buy Vermont products, they expect them to be pure, to be healthy, to be wholesome, to be natural, and we’re very concerned that having GMOs in our food system would undermine the Vermont brand,” said Dan Barlow, a lobbyist with the group Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. “If we’re not going to stand up and defend our right to know what’s in our food, what is worth to stand up and defend?”

While there’s growing support for labeling, the House is the first legislative body to pass such a bill in the United States.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers will debate its merits in January. Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he would support a GMO labeling bill as long as his administration found it could survive legal challenges.

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The House on Friday afternoon will take up agriculture issue: the legalization of hemp production. Federal law bans growing hemp, but the bill before the House has wide spread support from farmers in Vermont.

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The Senate overwhelmingly rejected a bill passed in the House earlier this week that caps individual donations to political action committees at $5,000 each two-year election cycle. The bill now goes to a conference committee.

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As the legislative session crawls to a close, lawmakers continue to consider a more progressive tax code that would limit income tax deductions for wealthy Vermonters and lower all tax rates. Gov. Shumlin and legislative leaders reached an agreement to balance the state’s budget on Tuesday without raising taxes or new revenues. Shumlin says changes to the tax rate would violate their previous agreement. Sen. Tim Ashe, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says changes to the state’s income tax would make the tax code more equitable for everyone.