My Turn: Maintain federal labeling of food products
The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the issue of labeling foods that have been genetically altered, or modified. These foods are known as GE or GMO foods.
The idea of GMOs in our food isn’t a new one. They’ve been in our foods for several decades. What is new is the attention they are getting and perhaps a strong consumer interest in the use of the biotechnology in our nation’s major crops.
But whether GMO foods should be labeled or not, it is not something individual states should mandate. Our organization does not endorse or oppose the issue of GMO labeling, but if done, it should be on a federal level. A state-by-state approach becomes costly to food producers and consumers, causes confusion, and is impractical. If any labeling is necessary, requirements should be done on a national uniform level. It simply doesn’t make sense to have one set of rules just for Vermont, which could put many of our businesses at a distinct disadvantage to the rest of the country.
Take processed foods, for instance. Here in Vermont we pride ourselves on the many wonderful, unique specialty foods we produce. Our producers often want, and need, to grow their brand outside of Vermont. While some are able to produce products without GMO ingredients, others are not. Forced labeling would suggest a negative message on their label that their competitors in other states don’t have. Specialty foods have been a bright spot in Vermont’s economy and a labeling requirement specific to Vermont producers would, most likely, prove detrimental.
We don’t require different labeling for nutritional information or ingredients in different states. The standards and requirements are uniform.
And lawmakers should consider this; if our state requires labeling of GE foods, many manufacturers who sell products that appear on our grocery store shelves on a regular basis, will be required to label their foods just for Vermont. They will either pass along the extra cost of doing so to us or they may simply opt not to sell to stores here. Our choices at stores could decrease quite a bit considering that over 70 percent of the packaged foods on the market in the U.S. are estimated to include some ingredients that have been genetically altered.
Our retail members had firsthand experience with the rBST labeling law that was enacted in the mid 90’s (and ultimately ruled unconstitutional) Our “Blue Dot” program was confusing for retailers and consumers alike. Under the rBST law, no manufacturer labeled their products for Vermont, as envisioned by the statute, so retailers needed to put dots on the shelf tag for those products that may have been produced from milk from cows treated with the growth hormone.
It was a nightmare as product shelf tags continued to change, fall down, become missing, etc. And in spite of signs posted in the dairy case, it was often misinterpreted.
If the political or consumer interest is having products labeled, it should be directed at the federal level. Legislation has been introduced in Congress. Another route is to ask the White House to direct the FDA to establish rules. There are other countries that require this labeling, but they are countries, not individual states.
Should Vermont’s law pass as its written now, Vermont would be the only state taking the plunge. It’s a deep and costly one and could have a significant economic impact on the state, our grocers and food producers, and our consumers.