Federal Labeling Law on GMOs Does Not Pass the “Laugh Test”

 A protester in San Francisco, California, advocates for the labeling of GMO constituents in foodstuffs. Photo courtesy of Daniel Goehring.

A protester in San Francisco, California, advocates for the labeling of GMO constituents in foodstuffs. Photo courtesy of Daniel Goehring.

Due to pressure from the processed food industry, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a new federal law requiring QR codes on the labels of products containing genetically modified foods, or GMOs. For activists, especially in Vermont, this was very bad news.

After years of activism Vermont became the first state in the United States to pass a law to require manufacturers to state on product labels if the food within contains GMOs. The law passed in Vermont’s legislature in 2014 with an overwhelming majority, and went into effect on July 1st, 2016.

As the law was challenged in court during the summer, unsuccessfully, activists in New York and Massachusetts took heart and gained momentum to pass similar laws. In addition, several food companies decided that it would be easier to put labels on their products throughout the country rather than just creating a different label just for their small Vermont market. Some companies even decided it would be easier to just leave out GMOs altogether.

Then, in mid-July, congress took the side of processed food, pesticide and biotech companies. With little debate and no hearings, first the Senate, and then the House, passed a much less potent law for disclosing GMOs in food. But not only that: the law also prevents individual states, including Vermont, from making their own labeling requirements. President Obama signed this law into effect on July 29th.

The weaker federal law makes it more difficult for consumers to find out what is in their food, requiring them to either have a smart phone to read the QR code, or look up the ingredients on a web site, or make a phone call.

“The idea that this will provide right to know is ridiculous,” says Andrea Stander, the executive director of Rural Vermont, which pushed for Vermont’s labeling law. “It doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

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