Vermont became the first state to enact labeling legislation for genetically modified organisms. The labeling requirement will take effect on July 1, 2016.
Although Connecticut and Maine previously enacted GMO labeling requirements, the laws in those states are not triggered until a specific number of neighboring states have enacted similar legislation.
Pursuant to Vermont’s law, fresh produce and processed foods offered for retail sale in the state must include special labeling if they are entirely or partially produced by genetic engineering. Fresh produce that contains ingredients enhanced by genetic engineering must carry a label designating them as “produced with genetic engineering.” Processed foods that contain one or more genetically engineered ingredients must include “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be produced with genetic engineering” or “produced with genetic engineering.”
In addition to mandating the genetic engineering label, the bill also prohibits GMO foods from concurrently using labels like “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” or “any words of similar import that would have a tendency to mislead a consumer.”
Excluded from the law’s coverage: meat or dairy products made from animals that were fed with genetically engineered ingredients or consumed genetically engineered feed. Restaurants are also exempt.
The state’s Attorney General has the authority to promulgate regulations and enforce the law. Violations of the law could lead to fines of up to $1,000 per day, per product.
Anticipating a legal challenge from the food industry, Vermont legislators built a $1.5 million legal fund into the law to pay for any “costs or liabilities” related to the legislation.
To read Vermont’s law, click here.
Why it matters: Now that Vermont has taken the leap and enacted legislation without a triggering event, will other states follow? GMO labeling laws are currently pending in 23 other states, including California and New York. Other states may take a wait-and-see approach, as the food industry has vowed to challenge the law in court.