By a 9-1 vote Friday afternoon, the House Agriculture Committee approved a bill that would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled.
Legislators said the move comes in response to an increasing call for information about the contents of food and wariness about the science of genetic engineering.
For several reasons, however, the controversial labels are far from a reality in Vermont.
The bill comes out of committee as the 2012 legislative session is in its final weeks. The legislation would need approval from the House Judiciary Committee, the full House, the Senate and the governor before becoming law. Supporters and opponents acknowledge that’s not going to happen.
Even if it did, the bill itself also delays enactment until 365 days after California and at least two other Northeast states enact similar laws.
“We wanted to do it this way so we didn’t disrupt the supply chain,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham. Legislators heard concerns from Vermont food producers that they would have to have two labeling systems for in-state and out-of-state sales.
Rep. Norm McAllister, R-Highgate, was the lone vote on the committee against the bill. McAllister is a dairy goat farmer who grows genetically modified corn and considers it safe.
Supporters of the labeling legislation — noting that 300 people turned out for a public hearing last week in favor of the labeling — said they were disappointed Friday that the committee opted for the delay and that the bill came out so late in the session.
“They passed a piece of legislation that has its arms and legs tied and eyes and ears covered,” said Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont. “This essentially ends any opportunity for Vermont to pass a meaningful labeling law.”