The new GMO Labeling Bill is awaiting Obama’s signature before it is officially signed into law. The legislation will require the labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients. It will also ban state-imposed labeling requirements, striking down the Vermont labeling law that recently came into effect after being passed in 2014. This is the first national standard for GMO labeling and it represents a tectonic shift in the way the government and industry are addressing consumer demands for GMO labeling.

At Clear Labs, we’ve been closely following the GMO movement. Over the past month, we’ve observed an interesting tension between the federal legislation and the Vermont law. The two laws take a fundamentally different approach to labeling; we see the merits of both, but we’re ultimately in favor of a national standard.

The Road Not Taken

Scheduled to go into effect July 1 (but not fully enforced until 2017), the Vermont legislation represented the beginning of a 50 State Framework that could mean each state had its own standard of GMO legislation. It was an aggressive approach, one that set much more stringent standards for the industry in terms of what should be labeled, and what those labels should look like. In fact, brands had already begun labeling their products according to the standards of the legislation.

By comparison, the national standard will offer a more measured approach, taking into consideration the economic factors associated with mandated labeling. Rather than aggressive laws dictated state by state, it outlines a plan with less stringent rules (such as three different options for labels, and several food category exemptions). We see its value in offering a viable option that takes into account the complications of inter-state trading while addressing the costs of mandated labeling.

It’s easy to look at this new law as less rigorous, and less forward-thinking than Vermont’s bill, but we should see this as a step forward. Both laws progress the consumer’s right to know and both spur an industry-wide shift towards transparency, which we think is ultimately good for the industry as a whole. Though the Vermont bill was more rigorous, the federal labeling requirement is open-ended enough to give food brands the` ability to contribute to the conversation and shape the discussion around what the labels will look like, and how they will be accessed, protected, and verified.

The federal legislation offers a tenable solution and helps make change affordable and regulations approachable, while still responding to increasing consumer demand for transparency. The government is moving forward with a plan that takes into consideration the economic self-interest of food companies and brands.

With this approach, brands may be encouraged to see compliance as an opportunity for distinction, not an unfair burden to bear, and we can continue to march towards the north star consumers are demanding and deserve – open information. Of course, there’s much work to be done yet. We still have to figure out how exactly the bill will roll out, what the labels will look like, and ultimately how we will define “GMO.”

We should take this moment as a time to act, while recognizing that we have a long journey ahead of us.


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