Assuming Vermont's GMO labeling law survives a court challenge, beginning in July, 2016, all producers of food products sold in Vermont that contain genetically modified ingredients will be required to label the products as containing GE ingredients (unless the GE component is below 1 percent of the total weight of the product). The label must be “clear and conspicuous” and must be no smaller than the size of the words “Serving Size” on the “Nutrition Facts” label required by federal law.
There will be three (3) labeling options: “Produced with Genetic Engineering”; “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering”; and “May be Produced with Genetic Engineering.” Producers can use the label “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” if the product contains less than 75 percent GE material by weight. Producers can use the label “May be Produced with Genetic Engineering” only if the manufacturer does not know, and cannot reasonably determine in good faith and with due diligence, if the ingredients are genetically engineered. The Vermont Attorney General can determine whether a producer has used good faith in using this option. A producer is exempt from the labeling requirement if it obtains sworn affidavits from its suppliers that the ingredients are not genetically engineered or GMOs.
Retailers who sell raw commodities that contain or are the product of genetic engineering (e.g., raw corn in the produce section at the supermarket) must also label the product at the point of sale.
Producers/retailers are free, if they wish, to include a disclaimer that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not consider genetically engineered food to be materially different from non-GE food.
In addition to having to label their products, as described above, producers of food products containing GE ingredients cannot use the word “natural” or words of similar import (e.g., “all natural” or “naturally made”) on the product.
There are significant exceptions to the law. Pure meat and dairy products are completely exempted, as are alcoholic beverages. Food intended for immediate consumption (e.g., restaurant food, deli food, take-out, etc.) is also exempted. Also, food products containing small amounts of GE ingredients that are only used as processing aids do not need to be labeled. Lastly, also exempt are products that have been certified as “organic” or GE-free by an organization acceptable to the Vermont Attorney General (e.g., the Non-GMO Project).
The Vermont Attorney General is empowered to investigate and enforce the law.
Compliance with this law could be extremely challenging for both national and local food producers, for a variety of reasons. For national food producers, compliance with the law could mean: a) labeling ALL of their products nationwide just to comply with the Vermont law, even though Vermont constitutes only a tiny subfraction of the national market share; or b) specially-labeling the package on products intended exclusively for the Vermont market (if it is even feasible to do so), or c) changing their distribution systems to keep non-labeled products out of the Vermont market. Some observers have wondered whether some national producers will simply no longer ship their products into Vermont, rather than create special packaging and distribution just for the tine Vermont market.
For small or local producers, it could be an extreme hardship to: a) determine if their ingredients are genetically engineered, and/or then b) attempt to source only non-GE ingredients for their products. In addition, what if a national producer relabels its product to comply with Vermont law, but then a neighboring state passes a GMO labeling law with different labeling requirements than Vermont's? How many different state-specific packages would a national producer have to make for a single product?
Of course, the constitutionality of the law is currently being challenged in federal court by food manufacturers, and a decision in the lawsuit is pending.