The Vermont Senate passed a bill Wednesday that could make the northeastern U.S. state the first in the country to require mandatory labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The bill, approved by a vote of 28-2, said that labeling gives consumers information they can use to make informed decisions about what products they would prefer to purchase.
The bill would require food sold in Vermont stores that contain GMOs to be labeled starting July 2016. The Vermont law also makes it illegal to call any food product containing GMOs "natural" or " all natural."
The bill will now go back to the lower House, which passed it 99-42 in May last year. The House is expected to review the Senate 's changes before heading to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin for his signature.
Unlike bills passed last year in two other northeastern U.S. states of Maine and Connecticut, which require four or five nearby states to pass GMO labeling laws before they can be enacted, Vermont's law contains no so-called trigger clauses, making it the first "clean" GMO labeling law in the country.
"Consumer demand for mandatory labeling of GMOs spawned a national grassroots movement that has persevered despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the biotech and food industries to lobby state lawmakers in Vermont, and to fund anti-labeling campaigns in California (2012) and Washington State (2013)," Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, said in a statement.
"Today, consumers and a number of principled legislators in Vermont made it clear to Monsanto, Coca-Cola and other opponents of consumers' right to know: We will not back down. This movement is here to stay."
An estimated 70 to 80 percent of the processed foods sold in the United States have at least one genetically engineered ingredient. Cotton, corn and soybeans are the most common genetically modified crops in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 2012, genetically modified cotton accounted for 94 percent of all cotton planted, genetically modified soybeans accounted for 93 percent of soybeans planted, and genetically modified corn accounted for 88 percent of corn planted.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, does not require GMO foods to be labeled, saying that these products are generally regarded as safe with no material difference from conventional products.
Meanwhile, the U.S. congress is considering a bill aimed at stripping Vermont and other states of their right to pass GMO labeling laws.