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What you need to know about Vermont's GMO bill

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin plans to sign the nation's first GMO labeling bill into law this week. Sarah Harris spoke with Laurie Beyranevand, associate director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, about what the bill means for food producers and consumers.

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Sarah Harris
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Laurie Beyranevand, on Vermont's GMO labeling bill:

"There have been a few different attempts to have a bill like this passed, or legislation like this passed, in Vermont. And essentially it's to require the labeling ... of things that have been genetically engineered or contain genetically engineered ingredients. This particular bill was the result of a number of different tries before the legislature, and to try to be able to write a piece of legislation that would survive judicial scrutiny in the event that the state gets sued."

 On what the labels might look like:

"That's the piece we don't necessarily know at this point until the regulations are written. So what that would actually look like on the label, where they would be located on the label, the specific language....and the different with something like gluten free or something that says it's organic is that those are all voluntary claims that a manufacturer or producer can make on a label. And this would be something that would be required."

On Vermont's bill possibly setting a precedent in the food industry:

"I think that's the hope from a lot of food advocates because it's the first one that doesn't have any sort of strings attached so that other states would have to sign before our law becomes effective. So I think the hope is that once the bill gets signed into law, it will have some sort of domino effect in a number of other states."

On more than 75 percent of Vermonters supporting GMO labeling:

"What I've been hearing is that people are incredibly supportive of the bill and the legislation and they want it to be passed. I wouldn't say uniformly small business owners are supportive, but there are a lot of small business owners in Vermont that are engaged in food production and manufacturing that are also supportive of the legislation, which I think is somewhat unique if you think about it from a national perspective."

On GMO safety and consumer choice:

"It's a curious question about why this particular issue has consumers so riled up. And I think one of the reasons is because even though there are studies that would suggest that genetically-engineered crops and ingredients are safe, those studies have been largely funded and conducted by the industry that's producing them. And we haven't seen any independent studies necessarily showing that they're safe. And we certainly haven't seen any long-term independent studies showing that they're safe. And we haven't seen any I think that scientists would necessarily as a whole sign on to that would say that they're risky either.

So my sense from consumers is that they would prefer a more precautionary approach like what the EU has taken. And at least allow consumers the ability to have the information to make the choice for themselves. I think consumers perceive these products as risky and they would prefer to know whether they're taking on that risk or not."

To hear Sarah Harris' full conversation with Laurie Beyranevand, click "Listen" above.

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