Vermont's legislature passed a bill (H.112) this week that would mandate labels for foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMO) as having been produced with "genetic engineering." The state's governor tweeted that he plans to sign the bill. The measure would also make it illegal for foods containing GMOs to be labeled "all natural" or "natural." The law will take effect July 1, 2016.
Vermont would be the first state to require such labeling. Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO labeling bills, but their implementation hinged on other states passing similar laws. The Vermont bill included a legal defense fund in anticipation of the many challenges that are expected.
GMOs are present in most foods -- the Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates 80% of foods found in grocery stores contain GMO ingredients. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) points out genetically engineered (GE) plants "must adhere to the same safety requirements" as "food and food ingredients derived from traditionally bred plants." Learn more about FDA's role in regulating GE foods.
Nevertheless, efforts to label products containing GMOs are underway in 20 other states. Food manufacturers and biotech interests say labeling GMOs would scare consumers away from them.
Labeling rules would increase costs at many stages of food production, especially if rules vary from state to state. Ultimately, these increased expenses would likely be passed on to consumers.
But as pointed out by a Reuters news story, food companies may respond to the labeling law by stopping sales to grocery stores in the state. This would have limited impact on revenue as the population of Vermont is small at roughly 626,000 people.
Federal Effort to Override State Laws
Federal lawmakers have introduced a bill that would create a national voluntary GMO labeling plan guided by FDA that would override state rules. However, the likelihood this measure, known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, will gain any traction is low.
This measure is supported by a number of farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association. The national Grocery Manufacturers Association also supports the proposed bill. (View its press release detailing its stance.)
Other Rules & Regs Worth Noting