GMO Labeling Ripples Through Food Industry

Jul 1, 2016  | 3 min  | Ep4145

If your holiday road trip takes you to Vermont this weekend, you’ll be entering a state that stepped first into the foray of requiring labeling of food containing Genetically Modified Organisms.

But for how long remains the question. The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would trump the Granite State’s efforts.

Peter Tubbs reports. 

A first in the nation Vermont law requiring the labeling of food products with GMO ingredients went into effect Friday, causing more than just a ripple throughout the food industry.

The measure signed into law during the 2014 legislative session requires food processors to label the packaging of products that contain more than 1 percent of ingredients altered using methods not considered conventional.

The landmark legislation requires labels declaring the presence or lack of GMO ingredients to be “easily found by consumers when examining the outside of the packaging”. Independent groups are assisting manufacturers with certifying their products as GMO free, but many companies are creating their own labels to meet the Vermont standard.

The food industry estimates that 95 percent of packaged food in the United States contains GMO ingredients, which would place GMO labels on virtually every product on grocery shelves.

Food industry officials are concerned the randomness of the supply chain could accidentally put them in violation of the Vermont law. A brand may unknowingly have their products distributed in Vermont by third parties. The new law may cause smaller brands to drop their products from wholesalers in the Northeast to remove any chance of accidental distribution in the Green Mountain state.

Legal experts view the Vermont law as a collective rather than individual threat to the food industry.

Kristine Tildgren, Center for Agricultural Law and taxation, Iowa State University: “So what you see with any of these types of State legislation or state laws that impact nationwide groups of, say, manufacturers, is you end up with a patchwork of regulation, so many manufacturers are like, so maybe you're going to regulate us, that’s fine, but we need to have a consistent standard, we need to not have to follow 50 different laws. That will drive us out of business.”

 

The labeling process is complicated by different regulatory jurisdictions. The FDA oversees most food products, while the USDA covers meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Labeling rules would generally cover FDA supervised products only, for example allowing meat producers to voluntarily label their products as non-GMO even if livestock feed contained GMO ingredients.

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell has announced enforcement of the new law will begin in early 2017 to allow suppliers and retailers a chance to clear unlabeled products from their shelves. The enforcement delay also will allow Congress time to craft a national labeling bill.

Kristine Tildgren, Center for Agricultural Law and taxation, Iowa State University: “I would expect to come September when the Senate reconvenes that this would be high on the priority list to get something passed it would be a nationwide standard because that's really one of the big issues here.”

The United States Senate worked on a bill this week that could supersede the Vermont law. The House passed a different bill addressing labeling in 2015. NO action is expected until Congress returns to work after the July 4th Holiday recess.

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