Thursday, April 24, 2014

Vermont Labels GMOs - What Happens Now?

Today in Vermont fear ruled the day.
There is really no reason to label GMOs.

Unfortunately, the Vermont legislature has passed a bill that will require mandatory labeling of products containing genetically modified foods by 2016. Vermont's governor has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.

The GMO labeling efforts are a bad idea and have nothing to do with "right to know." They are solely about scaring consumers -- many of whom are not concerned about biotechnology. Nor should be they -- there has never been a single scientific study showing that GMOs are detrimental to humans or the environment.

So, what does that mean now? Here are the 3 most likely things I see happening.

1. Industry groups file lawsuits.

Implementation of this law would not go into effect until 2016, supposedly so food companies have time to get ready for the new requirements. The Vermont Attorney General has been placed in charge of the labeling requirements, so obviously the rules have to be written to enforce the law first.

But waiting until 2016 also leaves a nice chunk of time for the legislation to ping pong around the courts with any companies having to expend money on those pricey labels.

Ironically, a mandatory label for selling products in Vermont is, Constitutionally speaking, a very similar analysis to California's egg laws. As I explained in my article about that legislation, an individual state cannot place an undue economic burden on producers across the country without violating the dormant Commerce Clause.
“One element of our dormant Commerce Clause jurisprudence has been the principle that the States may not impose regulations that place an undue burden on interstate commerce, even where those regulations do not discriminate between in-state and out-of-state businesses.”
That's exactly what Vermont is attempting to do here -- they want to require in-state and out-of-state producers slap a label on their product. If the court finds that places an undue burden on interstate commerce (and given the costs and difficulties it can impose compared to the lack of a benefit), then the courts can strike down the labeling requirements.

Personally, I would love to see the court enforce the dormant Commerce Clause more and stop letting these types of requirements, including California's egg law, continue unchecked. I sincerely think this will be a course of action taken. However, I think it will be extremely unpopular and will be seen as "big ag" (whatever the heck that means) simply spending lots of money to "hide" something.

2. Congress passes the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act

Or a similar bill. The legislation will put the FDA in charge of any food labels regarding biotechnology. The FDA has already stated they won't go along with mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs, so the issue would be done (for now, at least...).

I've shared my ideas on this plan here and here. As long as the FDA is staffed with competent science-lovers, then we would be fine.

To me, this is probably the best course of action. Vermont can keep their silly labeling laws on the books, but they won't be able to enforce them. Meanwhile, the FDA can take a measured and scientific approach to the issue.

3. We let the bill be implemented.

This might not seem like the best idea in the world, but what if we just let Vermont require all products containing genetically modified foods have a label stating such? Many people, including farmers in favor of biotechnology, have supposed that it won't make a difference.

Most found products today contain some trace amounts of GMOs. According to some estimates, 70-80% of items on the shelves will have to be labeled now. (Source: US Today.)

That means that almost everything on the shelves in Vermont grocery stores will carry a label. So, really, the idea of a label won't really mean that much to most people. Just like the nutrition label is often ignored, so may the GMO label be ignored. And that might work just fine.

Otherwise, there might be a whole lot of food companies that just decide to stop selling products for sale in Vermont. For national food brands, this might just be the right way to go. Adding labels and changing packaging, not to mention following the provisions of the bill, are costly. And those costs might outweigh the profit that the company receives from Vermont buyers, especially if a company only sells labeled food in Vermont. Most food companies cannot produce their food without GMOs (because the supply of ingredients isn't abundant enough), so requiring a label might drive them away from the state.

Empty shelves or higher grocery bills might just be enough for the people of Vermont to demand the state repeals the law. Or so we can hope.

What do you think? Is there another course of action? And which one would you choose?

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

4 comments:

  1. I saw throw all the food into one big pot and eat it.

    It's better than starving.

    It would be one thing we were talking about something serious but it's genetically modified crops. Seriously. We are so lucky to have the amazing advancements that we do. This is just going to bring the cost of food up and raise an unncessary concern about GMOs. Like you said.

    I'm irritated.

    It would be one thing if there was scientific evidence proving a destruction from consuming genetically modified crops.

    This is all over an idea. The latest hipster trend. And I don't like it.

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  2. I personally hope that the labeling law will stay on the books with most companies simply not selling their products in Vermont. That scenario will get rid of a lot of heavily processed foods but if people cannot or will not cook using mostly whole foods they may not like the pricier "natural" and organic products leading to a backlash. Could possibly be really positive with the reduced selection of heavily processed foods if that leads to better food choices essential imposed by law.

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  3. The American Medical Association already torn down labeling like the scam it is:

    ”There is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods. Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”

    Labeling would also hike up food bills for everybody:

    "Mandatory labeling of foods would involve significant costs, especially the costs of testing for the presence of bioengineered ingredients, segregating the crops, and monitoring for truthfulness of labeling and enforcement of the regulations that exist. These costs would likely be passed to the consumer; it is estimated that mandatory labeling would increase the average household’s annual grocery bill by $140-$200 per year. Surveys of U.S. consumers reveal that while some are willing to pay a premium for foods that do not contain bioengineered ingredients, the majority of consumers are not willing to pay for increases commensurate with the costs of mandatory labeling policies. Regarding consumers’ 'right to know' argument, courts have found that consumer curiosity alone is not enough to require special labeling. The reasoning behind these rulings is that 1) special labeling places an unfair financial burden on industries that would have to investigate, document, and label the 'level' of bioengineering in their product; 2) it may mislead consumers into thinking that bioengineered foods are less safe than their conventional counterparts; 3) it places a burden on the FDA itself, which would have to divert resources away from safety-based labeling to address consumer curiosity; and 4) it places no end on the information consumers could request manufacturers to disclose."

    Source (There's a login wall now :( ):
    http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/csaph/a12-csaph2-bioengineeredfoods.pdf

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  4. There's not enough irrational fear in these comments.

    Frankenfood! Monsanto bad! Illuminati!

    There. Now back to rational discussion.

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