Last spring the legislature passed a law requiring foods that contain genetically modified organisms – or GMOs- to be labeled. That labeling will go into effect in 2016, and the details of how that labeling would work were left up to the Attorney General to figure out.
The AG’s office has just released an early draft proposal of the GMO labeling rules. And the office is holding meetings around the state this week to give manufacturers, farmers, grocers, and regular citizens a chance to take a sneak peek.
Vermont Edition talks with Assistant Attorney General Todd Daloz, who worked on the new rules, to get a sense of what’s in them.
Under these new rules, two types of labels will appear in grocery stores: one for raw, agricultural commodities (like grocery store produce), and one for packaged, processed food (like juice, canned goods and frozen food). These labels will identify each product as one of the following: “Produced with Genetic Engineering”, “May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering”, or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering”, he said.
The first type of label, for agricultural commodities, will appear on every sign that identifies the produce and its price, while the label for processed foods will be featured on the side of the package next to the Nutrition Facts label, he said.
“It’s not a warning- it’s nothing like that,” Daloz said. “It’s just information for consumers and people who are interested in knowing this before they make a purchase.”
“Our thought process has been: that’s where people look for information about what’s in the product,” he said. “And this is just factual information about how the product was produced. That seems to be the most logical place.”
So what’s the difference between “Produced with Genetic Engineering”, “May Be Produced” and “Partially Produced”?
“Any label has to say ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering’,” Daloz said. “That said, a producer can modify that phrase by saying ‘Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering’, or ‘May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering’.
In order for their product’s label to say ‘Partially Produced’, a producer would have to show that that product contains no more than 75 percent material produced with genetic engineering. If it’s more than that, the label will read ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering.'
A third option is “May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering.” This type of modifier can only be used when a producer doesn’t actually know if their product contains genetic engineering.
“This might be a circumstance where a small scale producer receives inputs from a lot of different manufacturers, and doesn’t know whether their corn syrup is or is not GE, but there is a pretty good likelihood that it is,” Daloz said. “To be on the safe side, on the labeling, they label it “May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering”.
“It doesn’t enable producers to just turn a blind eye on their sources, but it also doesn’t require them to exhaustively search back all of the chain to the fields,” he said.
In order to prove that a product does not contain GMOs, a producer has two options. They can either go through a verification process through a third party, like The Non-GMO Project, or get a certification or sworn statement from the vendor.
“What our rules propose to implement is creating a system by which those third parties could apply to the Attorney General’s office to be approved to verify for producers out there,” Daloz said.
If a company doesn’t get the verification that its ingredients are GMO free, there’s a second option: getting a certification or sworn statement from the farmer or miller who sold the ingredient in question.
Food that does not contain genetically engineered components does not need a label.
“Where the labeling occurs is when someone is offering a food for retail sale in Vermont that contains food produced with genetic engineering," Daloz said, "and that means that they know that the food contains GE material."