The GMO labeling debate has not lost any momentum. In fact, for the first time in North America a mandatory GMO labeling law came into effect, in the US state of Vermont on July 1st. Why does it matter? Here’s the rundown.
What this means
According to the New York Times:
- Foods sold in Vermont, with a few exemptions, must disclose if they contain genetically modified ingredients.
- Companies get six months to comply with labeling requirements.
- Cheese and meat (from livestock that has been raised on GMO feed) are exempt from these restrictions.
- Labels must either say:
- “Partially produced with genetic engineering”
- “May be produced with genetic engineering”
- or “produced with genetic engineering.”
- Companies could be fined $1,000 each day for items that are not labelled properly.
How food companies are responding
- The Vermont Retail and Grocers Association estimates that 10% of products will be pulled to avoid the costs of changing labels.
- Food giants such as Campbell Soup, Kellogg’s, Mars and General Mills have already or will begin to voluntarily label all foods nationwide to avoid the additional costs of state-specific packaging and distribution.
With no time wasted, congress passed a bill for a federal standard for GMO labeling that is expected to be signed by the president next. How does this change things?
- This federal law will override state law, including Vermont’s labeling law.
- Companies can choose to disclose GMO information either through a plain language label, a USDA symbol, or with a QR code. Smaller companies can provide a phone number or website URL leading consumers to more information.
- There will be no penalties or fines for companies that do not comply.
Proponents of the federal standard:
- Generally, food companies prefer a federal standard to avoid having to navigate a patchwork of state laws.
Opponents of this proposed federal standard:
- Say a QR code acts as a barrier to transparency. It confuses consumers and restricts information to people who own smartphones and have access to the internet.
- Also say there is still confusion around how products, such as oils and sweeteners, will be labelled that are derived from GMO crops but are processed down to the point of no longer containing genetically modified material.
- And because there are no penalties for companies that do not comply, labeling is essentially voluntary and the law is not effective.
Image credit: Dr. Bronner’s Soap Twitter via EcoWatch
In the rest of the world, 64 countries already have mandatory labeling laws. In Canada we currently have no GMO labeling laws. But how things play out in the States will certainly have a ripple effect. Stay tuned for more developments on this story and let us know what you think!