Tag Archives: labeling law

Vermont to target ‘willful violations’ of GMO law

Vermont’s attorney general says his office will enforce the state GMO labeling law by targeting “willful violations” by manufacturers.

“What we’re really going to go after is folks who are willfully noncompliant, who are just not putting labels on their products at all or otherwise trying to skirt the labeling law,” said Todd Daloz, an assistant attorney general.

Because some shelf-stable food will be produced and distributed before July 1, the state is allowing for a six-month period for those products to move through the system. The attorney general’s office says it won’t take enforcement action for those products during that time, unless there’s evidence that a manufacturer distributed a mislabeled product after July 1.

“Those long shelf stable products are not our concern. Our concern is going to be manufacturers who are choosing not to label or are not labeling for whatever reason,” Daloz said.

The law requires manufacturers to label packaged foods produced with genetic engineering and stores must post a label on or near unpackaged genetically engineered foods such as produce and bulk food.

The Food and Drug Administration says genetically modified organisms, which can include food made from seeds that were engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, are safe, but labeling advocates say not enough research has been done and people have a right to know what’s in their food. Advocates also say the use of GMOs has led to big increases in herbicide use.

Maine and Connecticut also have passed laws that require such labeling if other nearby states put one into effect.

Some foods are exempt from Vermont’s labeling law like meat, honey, plain milk or eggs _ foods entirely derived from an animal that don’t have added ingredients and regardless of whether the animal has been fed or injected with food or drugs produced with genetic engineering. Also exempt are foods that require USDA approval of their labels such as those containing meat or poultry like a frozen dinner or can of SpaghettiOs. Alcohol is also exempt.

Violators face civil fines of up to $1,000 per day, per product, and not based on the number of individual packages of the product. Retailers who are out of compliance would get a 30-day warning to correct the problem before facing fines.

The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, which has called for a national solution rather than what it says is a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling laws, says Vermont’s law is arbitrary and confusing. It says it’s concerned about lawsuits from private citizens and organizations against food companies and says a recent memo from Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell does not make clear how he will know a “willful” violation without bringing an action.

In recent weeks, food companies Kellogg, Mars, ConAgra, and General Mills have joined Campbell Soup Co. in saying they will print new national labels in preparation for Vermont’s law but oppose state-by-state labeling requirements.

The Vermont attorney general’s office has received a lot of inquiries from manufacturers about compliance issues, said Daloz.

“And it’s heartening to see major manufacturers … choosing to put what from our view is a very simple factual disclosure on the label and with what appears to be not a tremendous amount of burden on them to put those four words on the label,” he said.

US repeals meat labeling law after trade rulings against it

It’s now harder to find out where your beef or pork was born, raised and slaughtered.

After more than a decade of wrangling, Congress repealed a labeling law last month that required retailers to include the animal’s country of origin on packages of red meat. It’s a major victory for the meat industry, which had fought the law in Congress and the courts since the early 2000s.

Lawmakers said they had no choice but to get rid of the labels after the World Trade Organization repeatedly ruled against them. The WTO recently authorized Canada and Mexico, which had challenged the law, to begin more than $1 billion in economic retaliation against the United States.

“U.S. exporters can now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. The longtime opponent of the labels helped add the repeal to a massive year-end spending bill. After the law was passed, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the government immediately would stop requiring the labels.

Consumer groups say the repeal is a disappointment just as consumers are asking for more information on their food packages. Advocates say the labels help people make more informed buying decisions and encourage purchases of American meat.

Before repeal, the labels told shoppers that a particular cut of meat was “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.” Congress first required the labels in 2002 amid fears of mad cow disease from imported cattle. The labels weren’t on most packages until 2009, though, due to delays pushed by the meat industry.

Repeal became inevitable once the United States lost all its WTO appeals and the retaliation became a possibility. But the consumer groups criticized Congress for repealing the law for ground meat and pork in addition to the fresh cuts of meat that were the subject of WTO concerns.

The bill was “a holiday gift to the meatpacking industry from Congress,” complained the advocacy group Food and Water Watch. Meatpackers who buy Mexican cattle were some of the law’s most aggressive opponents. 

The repeal also was a big defeat for lawmakers from northern border states where U.S. ranchers directly compete with Canadian ranchers. Those lawmakers insisted on including the labeling in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills and this year fought to replace it with a voluntary program once the WTO rulings came down. But after years of success, this time they were not able to find enough support.

Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union, which has heavy membership in those states, said the group was “furious” about the repeal.

“Packers will be able to once again deliberately deceive consumers,” Johnson said.

Still, there was some good news for food labeling advocates in the spending bill. Despite an aggressive push by the food industry, lawmakers decided not to add language that would have blocked mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients. Also, a provision by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would require labeling of genetically modified salmon recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The issue is expected to come up again in 2016, with Vermont set to require labeling on genetically modified food this summer. 

The day the spending bill passed, Vilsack said he would try to help Congress come up with a middle ground on labeling of engineered foods “in a way that doesn’t create significant market disruption, while at the same time recognizing consumers’ need to know and right to know basic information.”