Monday, March 28, 2016

Vermont state law forcing big food companies to label GMOs on products sold nationally

Vermont, one of the smallest and most rural states, "has boxed big food companies into a corner," forcing many corporations, including General Mills, Mars and Kellogg, to announce plans to begin labeling genetically modified foods, Dan Charles and Allison Aubrey report for NPR. "Two years ago, the state passed legislation requiring mandatory labeling. The Grocery Manufacturers Association has fought back against the law, both in court and in Congress, but so far it's been unsuccessful." (Campbell's Soup Company graphic)

"Congress failed to pass an industry-supported measure that would have created a voluntary national standard for labeling—and also would have preempted Vermont's law," Charles and Aubrey write. "Which means for now, food industry giants still face a July 1 deadline to comply with the state's labeling mandate. And since food companies can't create different packaging just for Vermont, it appears that the tiniest of states has created a labeling standard that will go into effect nationwide."

"Food companies have argued that such a label will scare consumers away because they'll see it—incorrectly—as a warning," Charles and Aubrey writes. "If it has that effect, companies will react by removing genetically modified ingredients from their products. In fact, food companies see the labeling campaign as a veiled attempt to drive genetically engineered crops out of agriculture. Privately, however, many companies are hoping that consumers will disregard those labels and continue to buy the same products as always. Consumers who are motivated to avoid GMOs may be doing that already, by buying organic or non-GMO products. If that's the case, those GMO labels will turn out to be just extra words on the package."

Congress night have intervened "had the pro-GMO forces been willing to accept mandatory national labeling to avoid mandatory state labeling," Urban Lehner reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "Instead, they held out for voluntary labeling. Whatever its merits, the voluntary approach never had much chance of passing the Senate. The Democrats wanted mandatory labeling, and they had the leverage: If Congressional action failed, Vermont's mandatory-labeling law would take effect. When a voluntary bill made it to the Senate floor, it got only 48 votes."

"If the pro-voluntary camp figured mandatory in one state is preferable to mandatory nationally, it miscalculated," Lehner writes. "The battle line of toppled Goliaths underscores the miscalculation. Labeling products differently in different states is costly and cumbersome. Rather than pulling out of Vermont, these food companies are imposing Vermont's standards on the rest of the country. A state with 625,000 people is effectively making food-labeling policy for a nation of 320 million. Worse, absent Congressional pre-emption, other states remain free to pass their own labeling laws. Their mandates could differ from Vermont's, leaving the industry with the dreaded patchwork of contradictory labeling laws."

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