Vermont vs. the big bad wolf, aka Monsanto and friends

gmolabelsHave you heard the one about a fetching New England state and the big, bad wolf?

Let me fill you in a bit. Last month, that fetching state, more often referred to as Vermont, passed the first comprehensive, mandatory GMO (genetically modified organisms, for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym) labeling law in the United States.

As expected, as quick as you can say Monsanto and the packaged food industry, one short month later, Vermont is being stalked straight into court by the Grocery Manufacturing Association, as well as by three other heavily financed packaged-food groups.

It certainly didn’t take long for the members of the pack, including St. Louis’s very own homegrown big bad wolf—that’s Monsanto for you non-Missourians—to start baying at the moon. The lawyerly wolves among the group quickly sat down on their haunches and developed a two-pronged attack. The first side of the attack claims that Vermont’s law violates the free-speech rights of corporations. (Who can forget how that cuddly wolf Mitt Romney famously intoned that “corporations are people too”?) The second side of the attack claims that the labeling law is inconsistent with FDA findings that there’s no evidence that GMOs are harmful to humans.

Poor, gentle Vermont. Its voters certainly scared the fur off of the big bad wolves. It’s easy to imagine the giant food corporations pacing and howling in their wounded state. After all, today gentle Vermont. Tomorrow brawny Oregon and Maine and after that tony Connecticut. There’s no question that a majority of consumers clearly back labeling for GMOs—reflecting a slew of unanswered questions about the lack of controlled, independent studies concerning the health effects of GMOs.

What kind of teeth, you may ask, does Vermont’s labeling law display? Not many, unfortunately. The fines for failure to label are a paltry $1,000. But the sharpness or the quantity of teeth is beside the point. As the herds of GMO-labeling advocates know, once the genie is out of the bottle, there may be no stopping it.

To be clear: The range of foods covered by the law is narrow. And the law, if left to stand in the courts, will have to wait until 2016 to kick in. According to Vermont’s attorney general, “the labeling requirement wouldn’t apply to many food categories, including meat, milk, restaurant fare and raw agricultural commodities that aren’t grown with genetically modified seed.”

It’s going to be interesting to watch the wolves gnash and gnaw as the fight heats up. After all, there’s a pile of money and an entire industry at stake in this fight. Remember that almost the entire crop of U.S. soybeans and corn grown in 2013 came from GMOs. Are you surprised by that chapter in this story?

Still you never know, do you, how fairy tales are resolved. The heroes sometimes lose, and the villains, the smelly wolves, sometimes win. Even so, I say it’s time to thank courageous Vermonters for standing up to that big bad wolf. We’ll just have to wait and see how this one ends.