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Issue Monitor: Senate GMO Food Labeling Bill

A Vermont law slated to take effect July 1 requires the food industry to identify on the product label if the product contains a genetically modified organism, or GMO. It’s estimated that today nearly 70% of all food products are made with at least one GMO ingredient. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, estimates that 70% to 80% of packaged food in the US contain GMOs through ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup or soy lecithin. More than 10 states have passed similar laws to Vermont but several of these states put a clause in their bills that they would not go into effect unless Vermont’s bill goes in to effect. Those opposed to labeling requirements have criticized Vermont’s rules as inconsistent. For example, if a food product without meat has GMOs in it, the product must be labeled as containing the organisms. However, if the same product has meat in it, then the label isn’t required because the state’s law doesn’t require a label for meat products. Food companies not complying would face fines up to $1,000 a day per product. Food is exempt from labeling in Vermont if it is a direct animal product like meat and eggs, is certified as non-GMO, if none of the ingredients have a genetically modified version, or if the GMO ingredients make up less than 0.9% of the product’s weight. Others are not sure whether the Vermont law applies to all of their products containing GMOs. That is because any foods regulated by USDA — including processed foods containing meat that makes up at least 2% of their weight — are also exempt from Vermont’s state law. On Mar. 18, General Mills said it is putting GMO labels on its packaged food nationwide, saying it would be too complex and expensive to create a separate distribution network for the 626,000-person state of Vermont. The company remains firm in its stance against mandatory labeling, but “having one system for Vermont and one for everywhere else is untenable,” said Jeff Harmening, General Mills’ chief operating officer of US retail.

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