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U.S. food makers sue to stop Vermont's GMO labeling law

By Lisa Baertlein

(Reuters) - Several industry groups representing U.S. food makers on Thursday asked a federal judge in Vermont to block that state's new law that will require labels on food products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The legal challenge was widely expected and Vermont created a "food fight fund" in anticipation of the move because it was the first state to pass a GMO labeling law that did not require other states to go first.

The fight over GMOs in the United States comes as more than 60 countries around the globe already require labeling of genetically engineered foods. GMOs have fallen out of favor with many U.S. consumers but products made with them are still abundant in the aisles of most U.S. supermarkets.

Connecticut and Maine last year passed GMO labeling legislation similar to that of Vermont, but it is on hold until several other states enact such legislation.

Challengers to the Vermont law, set to take effect on July 1, 2016, are the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Among other things, they claim that Vermont's law is a "costly and misguided measure" that would impose burdensome new speech restrictions on food sellers and set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that have "no basis in health, safety or science."

Representatives for Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Governor Peter Shumlin did not immediately return calls for comment.

BIO, a trade group whose members include Monsanto Co, Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical Co, and other companies that sell seeds that produce GMO crops, have said that costs for an average household would rise as $400 per year due to mandatory labeling.

BIO and the GMA also are backing a proposed federal law that would nullify Vermont's labeling law and any other mandatory labeling of GMOs in the United States.

Some of the most popular U.S. GMO crops are corn, soybeans and canola, which are staple ingredients in virtually every type of packaged food, from soup and tofu to breakfast cereals and chips. Organic foods do not contain GMOs.

While proponents and critics vociferously disagree over the safety, environmental impacts and effectiveness of genetically engineered crops, a consumer backlash against them led General Mills Inc to remove GMOs from its original Cheerios. Restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill has all but removed them from its food supply.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; editing by Andrew Hay)

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