By Michael Azain, ASAS Public Policy Committee
April 25, 2016 – The Vermont GMO Labeling Law is set to take effect on July 1, 2016. This law, signed by the governor of Vermont in 2014, requires that all human food items containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled. There are exemptions for meat and dairy products in the law. The approaching implementation date has created concern in the food industry.
Since it is not practical for food companies to develop labels for products sold in each state, the Vermont law will result in all foods being labeled, irrespective of the state in which they are marketed. A national effort to circumvent the Vermont law, sponsored by Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts, failed to pass the Senate in March of this year.
The Senate bill would have created national, voluntary labeling rules developed by the USDA. In addition, it would have prohibited individual states from imposing their own GMO labeling laws. The Senate bill had support from the food industry, including AFIA and various commodity groups. The industry concern with the labeling law is that it can be confusing to consumers and implies a safety issue with GM foods. In addition, the potential for individual states to implement similar laws with different requirements suggests that a federal law with more uniform labeling requirements would be more appropriate.
The Vermont GMO law is not the first such law passed in the state. In 1994, shortly after the approval of rbST, Vermont passed a law requiring that milk from cows treated with rbST be labeled as such. However, that law was later struck down by a federal court as violating the First Amendment rights of the dairy industry. A similar suit was filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association against the current GMO bill. A federal district court rejected that suit and it is currently under appeal in federal court.