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Two More New England States Look at GMO Labeling

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

By Ashley Ellixson

Silos on a field (Photos by Edwin Remsberg).

If you read last week’s post on Vermont’s genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling bill, you should be up to speed on what is going on at the state level when GMO labeling is discussed. To review, on April 23, 2014, Vermont became the first state requiring labeling of GMO foods. Vermont’s legislature approved a bill requiring raw agricultural commodities and processed foods offered for sale in Vermont retail stores to display special labeling (with certain exceptions) if those foods are entirely or partially produced with genetic modified products. The law will be effective July 1, 2016.

Vermont, being the first of its kind among states, faced constitutional challenges. In April of last year, a federal district court upheld Vermont’s law against claims it violated the First Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and is pre-empted by federal law. That decision is currently under appeal in the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals and time will tell whether the Court grants the food industry’s request for an injunction. Congress is also considering legislation which would preempt states from passing similar labeling laws, discussed here and here.

The week of February 8, 2016 was a big one in GMO labeling bills in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Along with Massachusetts, these are the last two New England states that do not have GMO labeling laws on the books. On February 9, Rhode Island’s House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare held a public hearing on a list of bills that would establish rules for labeling, including:

· HB 7082 requires any genetically engineered food be labeled as such.

· HB 7255 requires all food businesses (except restaurants) with gross sales over $500,000 to post signs saying all food items contain GMOs unless labels say otherwise.

· HB 7256 requests labels or marks on all milk or milk products containing GMOs.

· HB 7274 requires the labeling of all raw or packaged food entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering.

On February 9, the New Hampshire House of Representatives took up its labeling legislation. The House Environment and Agriculture Committee gave the bill an unfavorable recommendation in a 12-7 vote the week before, which makes its passage seems far from a sure thing. New Hampshire’s General Court hears both majority and minority reports on the floor. Rep. John O’Conner has recommended against the passage of the bill and says requiring GMO labeling is unnecessary. He also notes that cost to taxpayers is estimated at $100,000 to $200,000 per year to cover the Attorney General’s costs of making rules and taking legal actions. On the minority side, Rep. Peter Bixby argues that the public has the right to know what is in their food and suggests that some, including those of Jewish faith, need the information for religious reasons.

It is clear that GMO labeling continues to be hotly debated at the state level. This year should be one to watch as the states continue to introduce labeling bills and the federal government sorts out the national legislative proposals.

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