Vermont’s new food label law gives hope

Earlier this month, Vermont passed a landmark bill that will force food producers to label products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). And if the new law survives the ensuing legal battle, it will mean big changes on Vermont grocery shelves beginning in July 2016.

Shoppers will finally be told which foods contain GMOs. And believe me–there is a ton of them! In fact, most packaged food sold in this country now contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

If you’ve been reading my Daily Dispatch for a while, you know the majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified. And packaged foods are filled with corn- and soy-based ingredients.

Of course, the Biotechnology Industry Organization–led by a former Congressman from southeast Pennsylvania–immediately lashed out against the new law, calling it unfortunate and unnecessary. The organization claims the new law will create extra costs for farmers, food manufacturers, grocers, and consumers.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization also says GM foods are proven safe.

And that’s simply untrue.

GM foods have not been proven to be safe. In fact, animal studies link GM foods to cancer, birth defects, and digestive problems. There are also possible epigenetic effects that will only appear in future generations. (Epigenetic effects may appear only later, when the altered genes in plant germ cells produce unnatural offspring. They can also pollute the overall gene pools of botanical species throughout the plant kingdom.)

So, I have bigger concerns about genetically modifying plant seeds. This technique was developed years ago by agri-business giant Monsanto. They discovered how to rearrange crops’ DNA to make them resistant to pests and drought. They also discovered ways to make crops resistant to herbicides. This allows farmers to spray all the herbicides they want on their crops. The herbicides will subsequently only kill the weeds–not the crops. But their toxic effects in the soil, water and environment will continue to accumulate.

There are some other serious consequences to these practices.

We depend on plants for our survival. When you think about it, all animal life relies on plants for food, nutrients, and oxygen! But genetically modified seeds contaminate the gene pools of plants. And this contamination can potentially disrupt the natural ecology of the entire earth!

Plus, genetically modified seeds can ultimately require all farmers to use artificial chemicals (conveniently provided by the same industry) to grow anything at all. Over time, only the modified plants will survive. Any ability to grow plants and crops naturally and sustainably will become a thing of the past.

This is one case where we do need more research about GMOs before acting. But the industry is doing everything it can to prevent that research from happening.

The agricultural-chemical industry says that sewing only genetically modified seeds will simply protect the crops. But what they are really doing is protecting their own profits.

The industry also says sewing genetically modified crops will help save farmers. But like the proverbial village in the Vietnam War, in order to save them, they will ultimately destroy them.

Without a doubt, it would be a better–and healthier–world without genetically modified crops. Unfortunately, they aren’t going away any time soon. So the very least the food industry could do is label them so consumers can choose.

The European Union has required the labeling of GM foods for more than a decade. And if the Vermont law can withstand the legal challenges from Monsanto and others, it will be a huge victory in the U.S. Other states just might follow suit, if we’re lucky.

Maine and Connecticut have already passed GM laws. But their laws have “trigger” clauses, which means they won’t go into effect unless other nearby states follow suit.

Thankfully, Vermont’s law does not include a “trigger” clause. So the state will bravely go it alone…as it has done before.

For many, many years until the mid-20th century, there was a saying in presidential elections, “As Vermont goes, so goes the nation.” Vermont was a “bellweather” state. Or what political pundits today would call a “swing state.”

Later, that saying became, “As Vermont goes, so goes Maine.” (Let’s hope this old adage holds true in regards to GM laws.)

Today, Vermont has stopped “swinging.” At least politically. And it often seems to go off entirely on its own. In New England, it’s known as the “northeast kingdom.”

But some good things come out of this northeast kingdom (besides Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia)…

When I was nominated in 1996 to serve as FDA Commissioner by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is retiring this year, I was also interviewed by Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. Jeffords served on Harkin’s Senate Committee, which oversaw the FDA.

I found Jeffords to be an honest, original, non-partisan thinker regarding regulation of foods. Shortly thereafter, he created quite a stir when he left his political party to become an Independent. An understandable choice for Jeffords, since neither party really serves the interests of the people when it comes to food and drugs.

In any case, what does this all mean for you?

Well, first of all, boycotting GM foods is one way you really can help save the planet!

Even if you don’t live in Vermont, you can still vote with your wallet. When you buy packaged food, look for products that say “GMO-free” on the label. You can also make sure to buy organic produce. By law, organic produce cannot be genetically modified.

I also encourage you to write to your congressional representatives and senators to sponsor GM labeling laws in your state.

In this case, knowledge is power.