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article imageOp-Ed: Vermont's GMO labeling law has nationwide implications

By Karen Graham     Jul 1, 2016 in Food
Starting Friday, most foods sold in Vermont must legally display on the label if the item contains any genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While the law only covers products sold in Vermont, it does have nationwide implications.
Vermont's law began as a bill that was passed in the state legislature two years ago, and while there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the GMO labeling requirements, it will probably stand, at least until Congress steps in with a nationwide labeling law.
According to Food Safety News, last week, the U.S. Senate agreed to a labeling law. "The bipartisan bill is a win for both consumers and consumers and families,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee. “For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.”
The bill still has to pass the House of Representatives and then undergo at least two years of planning by the Department of Agriculture. If it passes, it will have implications for Vermont's precedent-setting law. This would mean that Vermont and other states would not be able to put their own GMO labels on products, making it a win for the food industry who has all along insisted that individual state labeling is too confusing and expensive.
Confusion among manufacturers and retailers
The Burlington Free Press is reporting the Vermont law requires manufacturers and those retailers who make and package food in their delis, to determine whether their products contain any genetically engineered products, and label them accordingly.
Jim Harrison, president of Vermont Retail and Grocer's Association, held a GMO-labeling webinar on Wednesday. He said, "There are a lot of questions, especially when you get down to the retail level. I bake a chocolate chip cookie, do I need to label it? How do I know what's in my sandwich? A lot of retailers assumed this law is for manufacturers, not us. The reality is it's for retailers as well as manufacturers, so there's a lot of anxiety."
Harrison also pointed out that at least one manufacturer, Dannon, sent labels to retailers in Vermont that sell Dannon yogurt, telling them to add the labels, saying "Our yogurt is not going to be labeled until August. Please label in the interim." Harrison told retailers to ignore the request because "That's not a retailer's responsibility. Once you do it, you're taking responsibility for the labeling."
Manufacturers have had two years to get it right
Believe it or not, but Vermont's law has suddenly awakened the whole food industry, from Coca-Cola to Abbott Nutrition, makers of Similac baby formula among other brands. And it is not like manufacturers that distribute products in Vermont didn't know about the law taking effect on July 1, because it has been two years since it was passed.
If anyone wants to place blame, let's place the blame where it belongs — on the U.S. Congress. The learned lawmakers have talked about and argued over GMO labeling for the past two years, opting to wait and see what would happen with Vermont's law, perhaps hoping it would be struck down in the courts.
Food manufacturers might as well get their ducks in a row and proceed with getting their products labeled, because it is going to come, rather its liked or not. By the way, 63 other countries already have mandatory GMO food labeling, according to the Public News Service.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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