On July 14, 2016, Congress passed a GMO labeling bill that establishes a federal standard, preventing Vermont (or other states) from enacting independent labeling requirements. President Obama signed the bill into law July 29, 2016. This victory reflects the successful advocacy of many food manufacturers and associations who identified the risk poised to industry by the growing patchwork of independent state labeling laws
Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will begin the process of establishing a national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard (GMO labeling standard). The USDA will determine many components of the federal requirements, including the exact language and format of disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients as well as exemptions (such as for “small businesses”, which remains to be defined) and requirements for small packages.
The federal statute directs USDA to issue regulations addressing specific issues related to the federal standard. USDA will likely organize public hearings and engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking to develop the exact details of the labeling requirements.
NCA will represent the interests of our member organizations during that process and will continue to provide important updates. While the implementation date for the standard is not set, the rulemaking must be completed within two years of the federal enactment. Therefore, the impact of this bill may not be seen until 2018, with a compliance date anticipated even later.
Vermont Act 120 – What Happens Now?
In 2014, the state of Vermont enacted Act 120, a law that requires food manufacturers to put labels on products sold in-state that contain genetically engineered (GE or GMO) ingredients. The law also prohibits labeling or advertising foods with GE ingredients as “natural.”
Though the Vermont GE standard is preempted by the federal legislation, the penalties portion of Vermont’s law can still be enacted. This means that once a federal standard for GE labeling is developed, the Vermont AG or private plaintiffs may enforce the federal standard and apply the fees that were outlined in the Vermont law ($1,000 per violation per day for the AG; three times the value of the product plus legal fees in civil suits).
Please note that if your company has already labeled your products in compliance with the Vermont law, the federal bill will not immediately render your products non-compliant.