A new law goes into effect July 1 in Vermont requiring all foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled as GMO products. The law, passed in 2014, also has implications for neighboring states Connecticut and Maine, which have laws requiring GMO labeling if nearby states institute a labeling law,
Currently, there is also a bipartisan bill on the Senate floor awaiting a vote that would create a federal labeling standard that would supersede any laws passed at the state level. If the ruling is made prior to July 1 it will trump the Vermont law and require companies to only include a simple label that either lists a call-in phone number or a scannable QR code that would give consumers information on the food’s contents. The federal law would require consumers to do more legwork on their part, not lending itself to the transparency that pro-label advocates have longed for.
“For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who sponsored the bill. While many people want to know what’s in the food they buy and put into their bodies, the umbrella law covering all 50 states will only require companies to do some light-finger lifting, leaving more burden on the consumer – resulting in many people not truly knowing what’s in their food until they purchase it, bring it home, and call the toll-free number.
Over the last five years, a number of states, including California and Washington, have tried to pass similar laws but have lost with very narrow margins.
A GMO is any type of organism, plant, or animal, whose genetic material has been manipulated through genetic engineering. While the ability to genetically modify has been around for centuries, the widespread use and sophisticated method of bioengineering to help plants and organisms withstand weather, disease, and pests have only become mainstream over the last 20 years. This fact leaves many to wonder about the long-term health effects from continued consumption of these foods.
The use of GMO in foods first came to light in the 1990’s, but research shows it dates back to the days of Gregor Mendel in the1800’s and maybe even earlier. Researchers at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru uncovered that the sweet potato came about some 8,000 years ago due to genetic modification when certain bacteria was inserted into the swollen parts of the roots of potatoes.
Both the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have come out and said that except for very low adverse effects resulting in allergenicity and toxicity, no negative health implications have been observed from the consumption of GMO foods. But it is important to note that to date there haven’t been any long-term, independent human studies.
Food labeling has become a hot-button issue over the last few years for consumers all over the world. In May, First Lady Obama’s push to update nutrition labels on food packages — making certain fonts bigger and including a line for added sugar — was passed and will go into effect in 2018. And in April, the UK’s Royal for Public Health proposed adding exercise labels to food packing to show the activities and times needed to burn off the calories.
It will be interesting to see whether companies will comply with new GMO labelling laws, and what lies ahead in the future of food labelling.