The Vermont Attorney General's Office has formally adopted regulations that require labeling of food produced by genetic engineering or genetic modification. The rule takes effect July 1, 2016.
Food manufacturers will be required to place a label anywhere on the package where it can be "easily found" with guidelines on font size and color. Vermont retailers will have to label unpackaged products, including genetically-engineered raw agricultural products such as sweet corn and processed foods such as potato salad, cole slaw and baked goods.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell filed the rule on April 17. Manufacturers won't be liable for compliance until Jan. 1, 2017. "We're giving ample time for food manufacturers and retailers to prepare for the law to take effect," he said.
What's inside Vermont's GMO labeling law
First, the rule requires clear "Produced with Genetic Engineering" labeling on specified food packaging. Products that contain GMOs won't be able to use the term "natural."
While most of the GMO labeling responsibility rests on manufacturers' shoulders, Vermont grocery stores and markets will have to label bulk products containing GMOs. Local grocers will be responsible for posting signs next to produce bin items.
The biggest challenge may be labeling pre-made meals, suggests one marketer. Some dishes may contain genetically-modified ingredients and are certified organic, so it's definitely a mixed bag.
Wendy Morgan, chief of the Attorney General Office's public protection division, says some foods are exempt. Pastries sold at bakeries, for example, don't require a label, as they may fall under the exempt category of "intended for immediate consumption."
Dairy products derived from animals fed genetically engineered food are also exempt. But dairy products containing additives such as chocolate aren't exempt.
Specialty products sold at farmers markets, like jams, will also have to be labeled if containing GMOs. But foods prepared and intended for immediate consumption, or a taxable meal, are exempt from labeling.
Internet food sales are also exempt under the current law, according to Morgan. That means online retailers selling chocolates and specialty foods aren't affected. The Attorney General Office is hoping to close that loophole with further legislation.
The court 'food fight' continues
As reported previously, the food industry isn't taking Vermont's law sitting down. Campbell Soup Co. is a member of the trade group suing Vermont over the GMO labeling law. The national Grocery Manufacturers Association, and other trade groups, are suing the state over its GMO labeling law, arguing it is unconstitutional. A federal district court judge heard oral arguments in January and a date for a decision has not been scheduled.
And there may be unintended farm consequences of any GMO labeling law, suggests Mischa Popoff, policy advisor for The Heartland Institute and former USDA contract organic inspector.
A threshold level for GMOs, even if voluntary, could backfire if organic farmers who can prove a level of "contamination" above an established threshold. They could sue farmers who grow GMO crops on the basis that this "contamination" prevents them from labeling their certified-organic food as GMO-free.
Meanwhile, no fewer than 26 state and county GMO labeling and banning campaigns are underway across America, according to Popoff.
Are you interested in the GMO discussion? Penton Farm Progress Special Projects Editor Holly Spangler explores GE foods, GMO labeling and the genetically modified food debate in an exclusive series. Follow the links below for more.