As voters in Oregon and Colorado get ready to cast ballots over the issue of GMO labeling, it might be a good idea for them — and any other supporters of labeling — to give Vermont’s law a second look. If you can recall, Vermont passed a mandatory GMO-labeling law last spring.
Vermont’s administrative agencies have been hard at work preparing to implement the new law. They recently released the proposed rules. You can take a look here.
As explained in this news article, the exceptions to the labeling rule pretty much eviscerates any chance the labeling had at actually being informative. Take cheese and beer for example:
Take the exception for foods that contain genetically modified “processing aids or enzymes.” While it’s not stated explicitly what these aids and enzymes are, it doesn’t take much to figure out why the state has proposed this exception to the law.
“Beer, wine and cheese will also need special consideration, since the use of genetically modified enzymes is fairly common when making these products,” noted a Whole Foods blog post last year.
How’s that? In the case of cheese, it comes down to a genetically modified enzyme, FPC, that’s used to make ninety percent of cheeses. It’s expensive to make cheese without FPC.
Vermont, of course, is known for its cheese. And beer. Not surprisingly, the regulations also exempt alcohol beverages.
(Source: Reason.com) I certainly don’t support GMO-labeling efforts, but how does that make any sense? Though proponents of the laws claim that they give consumers a choice and it is there “right” to know what’s in their food, the resulting laws hardly meet those goals (if at all!).
Also included in the proposed rules is the proposed sworn statement. The sworn statement is meant to act as an exemption to the law. For example, if a grocery store can get a signed sworn statement from a farmer that the sweet corn is purchased is GMO-free, then the grocery store simply may rely ont he sworn statement and forego any labeling. The statement requires the signer to swear the food was not made from genetically engineered seeds and it was not co-mingled with any other GMO food. As you can imagine, such a system creates an odd set of regulations. On the one hand, a farmer has to keep all the GMO and GMO-free food separate, fill out these statements for each product, hope that nothing got mixed up, and risk perjury if it did. Alternatively, the grocery store has to keep the food separate, keep track of which sworn statement goes with which product (will they keep them in the display?), and hope that customers don’t mix up the products in the display.
Did I mention that violating the law is going to cost you $1,000?
There may also be an strong argument that Vermont’s law is unconstitutional. As I explained in the case of California’s new chicken regulations, which California imposes on farmers that bring produce into the state, there could be a violation of the Commerce Clause lurking here. Again, one state may not impose “unduly burdensome” regulations on commerce from another state.
Attempting to figure out what foods require labeling under Vermont’s law may be unduly burdensome enough!
Although a federal court dismissed the lawsuit over California’s egg law, the labeling laws may have a better shot. The consequences are far more reaching than just one product (eggs) and require farmers and manufacturers to either source all non-GMO products or essentially have two completely separate and different assembly lines.
I won’t even mention how crazy and chaotic all of this will be for any companies or farms that sell to Vermont and another state with a labeling requirement. Are those food producers supposed to have one line for Vermont’s label, one line for the other state’s label, and one line for non-GMO food? The reason we need the FDA to step up is obvious.
Furthermore, Vermont may not really be ready to tackle such a lawsuit:
Reports indicate the state may have to revert to bake sales to fund its defense of its labeling law, which is expected to cost upwards of $8 million. In August, the state announced it had raised just over two percent of the money it expects to need to defend the law in court. Since that time, reports indicate that donations had swollen to less than four percent.
The labeling law is inconsistent, confusing, and costly (for both the State of Vermont and food producers). But the real reason you can shake your head in disbelief is that all of this hoopla is completely unnecessary. Scientific studies showing that genetically modified crops are perfectly safe for human consumption and also are more environmentally-friendly. Vermont is literally going through all of this nonsense simply because the legislature fails to recognize science. At the end of the day, no one is going to be any more knowledgeable, no one is going to have “choices” or “rights” than they did before, and they’re out of a whole lot of money.
Hopefully, Oregon and Colorado voters won’t follow suit in November.