Yesterday, the U.S. Senate decided to pass Bill 764. This essentially nullifies Vermont state law requiring food producers to print directly on the label, if their product contains GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms). This bill follows a lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufactures Association (GMA), along with three other trade associations, challenging the Vermont state labeling law as unconstitutional.
This “sham” legislation will allow some products to go completely unlabeled due to a definition of “bioengineered food” that even the FDA has called in to question. Companies will be permitted to use “QR” codes that will be unreadable by Americans without smartphones. Beyond all of this, there are no penalties for lack of compliance, and no authority to recall products that are not properly labeled. This will continue to keep consumers in the dark about what products contain genetically modified organisms.
Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin, was disappointed in the passage of this bill, “It’s a shame that Congress chose to replace our standard with a weaker one that provides multiple ways for the food industry to avoid transparent labeling.”
The legislation encompasses some foods that were exempted from the Vermont law, but it also allows the Agriculture Department to determine how much of a “bioengineered substance” must be present to require a GMO label. Labeling advocates say many foods wouldn’t be labeled if the department sets a high threshold.
Scott Faber, from the Environmental Working Group, which supports mandatory labels, is disappointed in the legislation because it keeps consumers in the dark about how best to spend their food dollar.
The Organic Trade Association, which supports GMO labeling, decided to support the compromise, in part because the law includes some special benefits for the organic industry. It includes, for instance, a provision that allows organic food companies to label their products as non-GMO.
The legislation is expected to be signed by President Obama. However, the debate over labeling is not over, as the Department of Agriculture has two years to write the rules regarding qualifications for labeling, for example, whether refinded products like soy oil or sugar from beets will need to be labeled, which are made from GMO crops.
If you would like more information about product labeling visit: http://www.justlabelit.org/