Later this year, barring some legislative maneuvering, Vermont will become the first U.S. state to require mandatory labeling of products that contain genetically-modified ingredients (GMOs).
The argument that led to the passage of the requirement is that consumers ought to “know what’s in their food.” As Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin put it last week, “We already require food companies to label nutritional values such as calories or sugar content and to include an ingredient list.”
His message was given a boost by Bernie Sanders, his fellow Vermonter and presidential hopeful:
The simple fact is, Americans want to know what is in the food they're eating and whether that food is genetically engineered.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 8, 2016
The reason that Shumlin and Sanders are speaking out is because this week the Senate will likely vote on a measure that could render Vermont's mandate moot. The bill, sponsored by Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agricultural Committee, would create an USDA-administered voluntary-labeling system as well as bar the labeling of goods by individual states.
You can tell a strange political moment is unfolding when Republicans are rallying against the rights of states to pass their own laws without federal interference. But such is the one of the sharpest and most hysterical national food debates.