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After failed attempts in several other states, and at the federal level, Vermont has adopted the United States’ first GMO food labelling law. The new law requires labelling of food with genetically modified ingredients, starting in 2016. It follows recent evidence that “Roundup Ready” GMO food crops have high levels of pesticide residues.
ACT 0120 (formerly House Bill 112), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], is called an Act relating to the Labeling of Food produced with Genetic Engineering. It was signed into law by the Governor on May 8, 2014. It is expected to face legal challenges from food manufacturers and pesticide companies. Similar GMO food labelling law (s) in the European Union have led to consumers widely refusing to buy the labelled foods.
In its recitals, the Act sets out the rationale for taking action at the state level. None of the reasons they give are unique to Vermont, which is why the Act would set such an important precedent if it survives legal attack. Their bottom line:“Because both the FDA and the U.S. Congress do not require the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, the State should require food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such in order to serve the interests of the State, notwithstanding limited exceptions, to prevent inadvertent consumer deception, prevent potential risks to human health, protect religious practices, and protect the environment”
“(1) Federal law does not provide for the labeling of food that is produced with genetic engineering, as evidenced by the following:
• (A) Federal labeling and food and drug laws do not require manufacturers of food produced with genetic engineering to label such food as genetically engineered.
• (B) As indicated by the testimony of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, the FDA has statutory authority to require labeling of food products, but does not consider genetically engineered foods to be materially different from their traditional counterparts to require such labeling.
• (C) No formal FDA policy on the labeling of genetically engineered foods has been adopted. Currently, the FDA only provides nonbinding guidance on the labeling of genetically engineered foods, including a 1992 draft guidance regarding labeling of food produced from genetic engineering and a 2001 draft guidance for industry regarding voluntary labeling of food produced from genetic engineering.
(2) Federal law does not require independent testing of the safety of food produced with genetic engineering, as evidenced by the following:
• (A) In its regulation of food, the FDA does not distinguish genetically engineered foods from foods developed by traditional plant breeding.
• (B) Under its regulatory framework, the FDA does not independently test the safety of genetically engineered foods. Instead, manufacturers submit safety research and studies, the majority of which the manufacturers finance or conduct. The FDA reviews the manufacturers’ research and reports through a voluntary safety consultation, and issues a letter to the manufacturer acknowledging the manufacturer’s conclusion regarding the safety of the genetically engineered food product being tested.
• (C) The FDA does not use meta-studies or other forms of statistical analysis to verify that the studies it reviews are not biased by financial or professional conflicts of interest.
• (D) There is a lack of consensus regarding the validity of the research and science surrounding the safety of genetically engineered foods, as indicated by the fact that there are peer-reviewed studies published in international scientific literature showing negative, neutral, and positive health results.
• (E) There have been no long-term or epidemiologic studies in the United States that examine the safety of human consumption of genetically engineered foods.
• (F) Independent scientists may be limited from conducting safety and risk-assessment research of genetically engineered materials used in food products due to industry restrictions or patent restrictions on the use for research of those genetically engineered materials used in food products.
(3) Genetically engineered foods are increasingly available for human consumption, as evidenced by the fact that:
• (A) it is estimated that up to 80 percent of the processed foods sold in the United States are at least partially produced from genetic engineering; and
• (B) according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2012, genetically engineered soybeans accounted for 93 percent of U.S. soybean acreage, and genetically engineered corn accounted for 88 percent of U.S. corn acreage.
(4) Genetically engineered foods potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture, and the environment, as evidenced by the following:
• (A) There are conflicting studies assessing the health consequences of food produced from genetic engineering.
• (B) The genetic engineering of plants and animals ants and animals may cause unintended consequences.
• (C) The use of genetically engineered crops is increasing in commodity agricultural production practices, which contribute to genetic homogeneity, loss of biodiversity, and increased vulnerability of crops to pests, diseases, and variable climate conditions.
• (D) Cross-pollination of or cross-contamination by genetically engineered crops may contaminate organic crops and, consequently, affect marketability of those crops.
• (E) Cross-pollination from genetically engineered crops may have an adverse effect on native flora and fauna. The transfer of unnatural deoxyribonucleic acid to wild relatives can lead to displacement of those native plants, and in turn, displacement of the native fauna dependent on those wild varieties.
(5) For multiple health, personal, religious, and environmental reasons, the State of Vermont finds that food produced from genetic engineering should be labeled as such, as evidenced by the following:
• (A) Public opinion polls conducted by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont indicate that a large majority of Vermonters want foods produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such.
• (B) Polling by the New York Times indicated that many consumers are under an incorrect assumption about whether the food they purchase is produced from genetic engineering, and labeling food as produced from genetic engineering will reduce consumer confusion or deception regarding the food they purchase.
• (C) Because genetic engineering, as regulated by this act, involves the direct injection of genes into cells, the fusion of cells, or the hybridization of genes that does not occur in nature, labeling foods produced with geneticengineering as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or other similar descriptors is inherently misleading, poses a risk of confusing or deceiving consumers, and conflicts with the general perception that “natural” foods are not genetically engineered.
• (D) Persons with certain religious beliefs object to producing foods using genetic engineering because of objections to tampering with the genetic makeup of life forms and the rapid introduction and proliferation of genetically engineered organisms and, therefore, need food to be labeled as genetically engineered in order to conform to religious beliefs and comply with dietary restrictions.
• (E) Labeling gives consumers information they can use to make decisions about what products they would prefer to purchase.
(6) Because both the FDA and the U.S. Congress do not require the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, the State should require food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such in order to serve the interests of the State, notwithstanding limited exceptions, to prevent inadvertent consumer deception, prevent potential risks to human health, protect religious practices, and protect the environment.”
By Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environmental Lawyer
Reprinted with permission from the Environmental Law and Litigation Blog.
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