Starting in July 2016, Vermont will require labeling on foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Governor Peter Shumlin signed the law on Thursday, setting the stage for a major battle between activists and food manufacturers. As The Economist notes, Vermont is home to more organic farms than any other state per capita, and it's the first state to take such a firm stance on the issue. Connecticut and Maine each have labeling laws that will only trigger if and when neighboring states put similar regulations in place.
Supporters claim labels aid transparency and will only lead to greater consumer choice. Opponents maintain that GMOs are perfectly safe for consumption and point to studies that have failed to establish them as a threat to humans and the environment. Consumers have always been able to avoid genetically modified foods simply by picking organic products, critics point out. They insist a mandated label program will drive up prices at the supermarket and fear shoppers will unfairly view the text — "produced with genetic engineering" — as some kind of warning.
Vermont's decision is a significant victory for the pro-label group, though it's expected to meet stiff resistance and no shortage of legal challenges. "Today, we are the first state in America that says simply, 'Vermonters have spoken loud and clear: We want to know what's in our food,'" Shumlin said upon signing the law. "We are pro-choice. We are pro-information," he said, highlighting Vermont's history of leading the way on important issues like same-sex marriage and the banning of slavery. "We will win the food fight."
Clearly the bill's advocates expected a fight all along; a website where taxpayers can donate to cover legal costs has already been launched. Activists seem to have momentum on their side. Led by Chipotle, more restaurants are increasing transparency around foods that contain GMOs. Retailer Whole Foods will require labels by 2018, and Vermont hometown favorite Ben & Jerry's no longer includes GMO ingredients in its newest ice cream flavors.