August 4, 2016

National GMO Bill Signed

Image_FoodSafetyAfter years of back and forth and much pressure from a public that asked for clarity in their food products, President Obama signed into effect a national GMO labeling bill last week. Like most things going through the US political system these days, there are some things to cheer about and some things that may not make all food businesses and/or consumers happy. Here’s the rundown as best we know right now:

The biggest plus, for many, is the fact that this law requires food manufacturers to disclose on their packaging that their products contain GMO ingredients.  However, how that information is disclosed may be hard for consumers to find.  Discussion has been about creating an electronic barcode that shoppers could scan while at the supermarket to learn which ingredients in the packaging are genetically modified.  Some argue that it’s not realistic for consumers to be expected to scan each package of food they’re picking up and that this adds little clarity to a consumer hot button issue.  Another option being floated around is to include an 1-800-number to each package but again, many are arguing that it’s not realistic to think that consumers will stop their shopping to make a call.  Also, some say that this places undo burden on low-income families who may either lack the technology or the time to be able to fully investigate the food packaging if information is presented in this manner.

It’s worth noting that the final draft of what is going to be required on the packaging, who may or may not be exempt, etc. likely won’t be out for another two years.  While the bill, with Congress’ support, has been signed by President Obama, the USDA has up to two years to determine exactly what this labeling law is going to look like.

The other very important thing to note is that since this is federal law, this means that this bill supersedes all state laws around GMO labeling.  Some states, like Vermont, have passed significantly stricter GMO labeling bills for food producers who sell within their state.  Now, however, Vermont consumers will see the same GMO labeling that consumers in the rest of the nation see.

One benefit of this national law for food producers though is the fact that if a food manufacturer meets the criteria for GMO labeling, they now will only have to contend with one set of labeling rules for all their packaging and not be required to produce separate labeling/packaging for separate states.  For growing businesses who sell into multiple states, this is certainly an important point as the feasibility of creating distinct packaging for each states’ laws is outside the financial ability of most smaller food businesses.

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