GMO Labeling policy
VBSR GMO Labeling draft policy
Agriculture and food production is a significant part of the Vermont economy. The use of the word "Vermont" on a label has come to indicate quality and product purity. The introduction of genetically engineered food has changed how food is grown in the United States and the attitudes consumers have about the food they eat. The use of GMO/GE ingredients in products produced in Vermont threatens to undercut the vitality and reputation of the Vermont brand. People have a right to make informed decisions about the food products they purchase for themselves and their families.
Genetic engineering is a new technology that alters the makeup of living organisms. Supporters of GE claim the technology has the potential to increase food production and decrease environmental effects of conventional farming, such as the use of pesticides. Opponents of GE claim there could be potential environmental and food safety problems, including adverse effects on small farmers.
There is little conclusive independent analysis on the potential positive or negative effects of GMO/GE on humans. Some recent studies on GMO/GE foods have found evidence of organ failure, fertility loss and an increase in obesity in animal test subjects.
The United States is one of few developed countries that do not require the labeling of GE food. The biotechnology industry, which champions the use of GMOs, has threatened legal challenges to state regulation requiring labeling. Vermont lawmakers considered a bill in 2012 requiring the labeling of GMO/GE foods in the state. The House Agriculture Committee in a 13-1 vote approved that legislation, which would not take effect until California and two other New England states passed similar laws. A similar bill is expected to be debated in the 2013 legislation session.
California voters will consider a ballot proposal in November 2012 requiring the labeling of GMO food in the state. Public opinion polls show upwards of 70% approval for that proposal. California is the eighth largest economy in the world and many food producers believe that requiring labeling there will result in companies labeling product lines sold across the country. UPDATE: California voters narrowly rejected the proposal.
Concerns from Food Producers in Vermont
Value-added food producers in Vermont range in size and means, although many start-ups are small operations with limited resources. Companies often sell their products within Vermont’s borders, but also capitalize on the Vermont brand by marketing outside of the state. Vermont food producers tend to use the same label and product design inside and outside of Vermont.
Vermont food producers have concerns that a state-by-state-based approach would lead to complex or differing regulations across the country, making it more difficult to sell their products while complying with the law. A federal solution on labeling would be preferred, but the current climate in Washington, D.C. is not conducive to that policy approach.
Vermont food producers are unlikely to produce a separate product label for outside the state if labeling is required. These businesses would be at a competitive disadvantage against products that would not be required to adhere to these regulations in other markets outside of Vermont. Changing or altering packaging can also be expensive and complicated for smaller food producers.
Because of the prevalence of GMO/GE crops and products in our food system, some small food producers have indicated they have difficulty in either ascertaining the origins of some minor ingredients or finding non-GMO replacement ingredients. Changing recipes or formulas to remove GMO/GE ingredients from Vermont products could increase the production costs for these companies.
Protecting the Vermont Brand
The health and vitality of many Vermont businesses not directly involved in agriculture or food production depend substantially on the high reputation of Vermont farmers and food producers for products that are safe and of the best quality.
Vermont entrepreneurs have succeeded, at considerable expense and effort over a long period of time, in marketing all kinds of Vermont goods and services at premium prices by being identified with Vermont agriculture and food production. The use of genetically engineered ingredients by Vermont food producers could undermine the marketing achievement of the larger Vermont economy.
Farmers and producers rely on consumer choice to market the Vermont “brand”. People who are purchasing food for their families deserve to know what they are eating and how it was grown, in order to make informed decisions about their health. Vermont food producers need to make informed choices about the way that they want to grow and market their products—whether organic or simply without genetic modifications engineered in a laboratory.
If food products are contaminated on a wide scale, it will spell the end of Vermont's reputation for purity. This coupled with consumers’ expectation of purity when purchasing Vermont products make Vermont businesses particularly susceptible to any negative effects of GMOs.
Labeling to Change the Market
Public opinion polls have shown that more than 90% of consumers believe genetically engineered food should be labeled. Research has also shown that more than 50% of consumers say they would be less likely to buy food labeled as genetically engineered.
Products advertised as being free of genetically engineered ingredients are generally seen as having higher value in the market. Sales of Non-GMO Project verified products grew to $1.2 billion in 2011, an increase of about 219%. The market for non-GMO/GE products is growing in the United States and association with this preferred value would make Vermont products more attractive and marketable to customers.
Although conventional food distributors often cannot verify the GMO status of products, there are more than 750 companies offering verified non-GMO ingredients for use. The market availability of minor and major non-GMO ingredients will grow as more consumers shift their buying habits.
Consumers have a right to know what is in the products they are buying and the prevalence of GMOs in Vermont-made products is a threat to the state’s brand. VBSR believes that requiring the labeling of GMO/GE food will change the purchasing habits of consumers and lead to more people seeking out products that are not genetically engineered.
Having Vermont take a lead in regulating GMO/GE food will further enhance the value of the state’s brand and may result in non-GMO Vermont products to increase their own value in the market.
But we also recognize that a state-only approach places additional burdens on Vermont companies that use minor GMO ingredients in their products. Small-to-medium sized Vermont companies will struggle with these new regulations and could harm a growing, but still young, segment of the Vermont economy.
Because of that, VBSR recommends that any GMO labeling regulation in Vermont should be coupled with state transition loans to assist Vermont companies in moving away from GMO ingredients and adapting product packaging to conform to the new law.