What California was not able to do, the humble state of Vermont may accomplish. Vermont may be the first state in the nation to pass a bill to require GMO labels on processed foods. House bill 112 passed with an overwhelming majority vote of 99-42, with some of the opposition not coming in the form of the labeling itself, but instead due to fear of the cost of lawsuits from food manufacturers. The fact is, the vast majority of Americans believe that food that contains GMO ingredients should be labeled.
One loophole that may comfort opponents is the fact that meat and dairy are exempted from the bill. Despite this exemption, those who voted no are afraid of the specter of potential lawsuits, and the costs associated with it. Meanwhile other states are looking to Vermont to open the door for them. The state of Washington is working to put the GMO labeling issue on the ballot. Like California’s failed ballot measure, I-522 allows consumers to sue in order to enforce the act. In other words, consumers don’t have to depend upon a regulatory agency to make sure that the laws are followed. Despite all of the political wrangling, there still seems to be questions on the science behind the push.
The question is, are people wanting the labeling due to a fear of the unknown, or is there evidence that GMO ingredients are harmful? An unscientific but telling sign can be found in the way that animals react when given the choice between GMO feed and non-GMO feed. Everyone knows that pigs eat just about anything put in front of them, but one Iowa farmer demonstrated that his pigs picked the non-GMO corn every time. The fact is, both anecdotal and scientific studies show that wild and domesticated animals prefer non-GMO feed. Some may argue that this is just an urban legend because both GMO and non-GMO feed has the same amount of nutrition. A study of the literature on the issue showed that there aren’t enough quality studies out there to really determine if animals really do prefer one feed over the other.
However, there is some science behind claims that GMO ingredients may be harmful. A study by a Danish farmer showed that when he switched his feed from GMO soy to feed without genetic tampering, his piglets’ health improved. The farmer noticed that his piglets had far more diarrhea and other health problems when they ate GMO derived feed. Just two days after switching his feed he noticed a change. Longer term, fewer piglets died, and he spent far less money on medications. So not only were his pigs more happy, but he was more happy that he was actually saving money. While one study doesn’t prove the belief that GMO derived foods are harmful, it certainly should give pause when considering human consumption of the food.
The call for caution is not new for many countries in the rest of the world. According to the Center for Food Safety, a total of 64 countries have some sort of law on the books to regulate food labels for GMOs. While one would expect all the European countries to be included in the list, there are countries one wouldn’t expect like China, Russia, India, and Senegal. So if the rest of the world gets it, why can’t the United States? The answer isn’t that we don’t get it. Instead, we’re too afraid of the financial costs of defending what we put in our mouths against giants like Monsanto. We have to demand that they stop monopolizing 95% of the nation’s sugar beets, 88% of the field corn, and 94% of the soybeans. And knowing that 70 to 80% of processed foods have at least one GMO ingredient, it explains why Monsanto is surely ready to sue until the sick cows come home. Hopefully Vermont will remain strong, and weather the upcoming storm.