On May 17, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced that it is allowing an additional 200,000 short tons of cane sugar imports to meet food manufacturers’ increasing demand for non-genetically modified sugar products. In its news release, the agency explained that

“USDA recognizes that America’s beet sugar producers have made significant investments in a strong 2016 crop, but they continue to face uncertainty. Based on the projections in the May 10, 2016 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, USDA took this action as required by the Farm Bill in order to maintain an adequate sugar supply in an uncertain market. This uncertainty is due to inaction on GE [genetic engineering] legislation and lack of consumer information about genetic technology.”

USDA further noted that it would “closely monitor[] sugar production, stocks, consumption, imports, and all sugar market and program variables on an ongoing basis,” and it recognized that the agency “may need to make additional adjustments to imports or domestic marketing allotments.”

This USDA action regarding cane sugar imports is just one example of the market consequences stemming from the uncertainty regarding mandatory GE labeling legislation at both the federal and state levels. Manufacturers are scrambling to find new sugar suppliers, reformulate their products, and/or relabel their products that could enter Vermont after the July 1, 2016 compliance date for Vermont’s Act 120 (which requires food manufacturers to label all FDA-regulated products that have been produced with GE ingredients). Confusion and uncertainty will likely continue among manufacturers and consumers alike as we get closer to that date, as Congress continues to go back-and-forth on a federal law, and as other states begin taking up their own, potentially disparate GE labeling bills.