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Vermont Leads GMO Labeling

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Vermont's Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to sign a bill that make the state the first to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified organisms.

Labeling is important, not just for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but for many things we bring into our homes, from food to cleaning supplies and even materials for our gardens.

So little of what makes up the landscapes of our lives is fully understood, and even when we do understand the risks, people often make choices driven by convenience instead of human health and/or the environment.

I meet people every day who play the tape in their heads that says if something is legal, it must be safe for humans and the environment. Various marketing tactics influence the public, creating a sense of security -- a comfort zone -- with what people do not understand. It was that early guerrilla marketing that made us comfortable with smoking. There was a time when smoking was mainstream. Not unlike elevator music in the background, it was mildly annoying, but never did we think it was dangerous. Cancer risk was not on our minds, especially when cigarettes were being marketed by physicians, Santa Claus and even advertised on children's television programs, including The Flintstones and The Beverly Hillbillies.

For more than a decade, Less Cancer has communicated about both the known and suspected preventable risks associated with cancer. Our organization was founded to discover the risk factors for cancer, and then help people reduce their cancer risk. As the founder of Less Cancer, the concern that I have is that GMOs call for the use of pesticides in a greater way, posing a possible unnecessary and preventable risk.

So while I do not completely understand and am by no means an expert on GMOs, my preference is for food that is not genetically engineered.

More specifically, I have never liked the idea of chemicals in my food -- it's just not the way I was raised. Often as a child I would garden in the vegetable garden where I learned about pulling weeds -- not spraying them. Regrettably, I remember chemicals on roses and trees but never food. As a result, I have always reached for organic first when available and affordable.

For now, buying USDA Organic food is one way of avoiding GMOs or other types of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In a perfect world, we would all know our local farmer but for many that is not a reality as is the availability of USDA Organic.

If I do not find what I am looking for, I often look for foods that are seasonal and local, with the hopes of reducing my pesticide exposure. Even so, I have no way of knowing and certainly would not have a way of knowing if products were GMO.

Another way of identifying products without GMO's are to look for the Non-GMO Project Verification Seal, which you can find in some places, but again, not all.

Labels do not answer all questions, but at the very least, we should be able to have the freedom to choose foods that are GMO or not. To understand if something is GMO would simply require a label.

As Americans, we have the right to know what our food contains. Freedom of information about our food and beverages is a fundamental right. USA Today reported GMO labeling is required in 64 countries, including the European Union, but no U.S. states. Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling laws that would go into effect only when a collection of neighboring states passes similar laws. Vermont lawmakers rejected that route.

I honor Vermont's lawmakers and their bravery in raising the bar on human health and the environment. I look forward to when other states will accomplish the same.