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Unnatural Selection: A Vermont bill seeks to label genetically modified foods PDF Print E-mail

by Corin Hirsch
Originally published in Seven Days Burlington, VT
May 2012

The label on your corn oil or cereal or tortilla chips reads “pure, 100 percent natural” or “all natural” — but what does that mean?

According to federal rules, not much. There may be traces of genetically modified soy, corn, potatoes or other crops inside. The word “natural” conveys only that a food contains no added color, artificial flavors or additives. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, get a free pass. And, since the word “natural” still has a powerful pull for consumers, its use and abuse aren’t limited to corporate giants such as ConAgra. Food items from companies as seemingly crunchy as Kashi (owned by Kellogg’s) and Barbara’s Bakery have also been fingered for harboring GMOs.

The state of Vermont has more stringent rules on misbranding than the federal ones, and those are at the heart of the bold bill H.722, aka the Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. Introduced in February by Rep. Kate Webb (D-Shelburne), it would require all foods that contain GMOs to say so on their packages.

“Vermonters care about food, and Vermonters care about choice. Choice is what this bill is about,” writes Webb in an email. “With this bill, the word ‘naturally’ would actually mean something.”

This is not the first time a state has sought to label foods containing GMOs. With 93 percent of Americans supporting such labels, according to an ABC News poll, 17 states are considering bills to do just that. Supporters in California are gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures to bring the measure to a ballot this fall, and a national campaign called Just Label It aims to collect a million comments to send to the Food and Drug Administration urging it to label GMOs.
This groundswell of support feels decidedly retro, at least in the global context. The European Union began requiring GMO labeling in 2004. Fifty nations do the same, and the United States and Canada are the only developed countries that don’t regulate such identification.

“It’s just one more example of how we’re really behind the curve of where the world is going,” says Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont, one of the organizations that cowrote Vermont’s bill, along with the Northeast Organic Farming Association and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “So many people are excited about this, because we can draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Enough. We want to know,’” she adds.

For the full article, visit