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A Better Partnership


May 2014
May 28, 2014

Vermont GMO Labeling Law FAQ

What does the new law require?

All foods sold at retail in the state of Vermont that are produced entirely or in part from genetic engineering must be prominently labeled as such.

What are the labels required to say?

Food that contains a product (or products) of genetic engineering must be labeled by the manufacturer using the following words, as appropriate: “partially produced with genetic engineering”, “may be produced with genetic engineering”, or “produced with genetic engineering.”

The labeling need not specifically list or identify any ingredient that is genetically engineered.

Food produced entirely or partially from genetic engineering must not be labeled on the package, signing or advertising as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or any words of similar meaning.

When will the new labeling requirements go into effect?

Although the bill was signed into law by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on May 8, 2014, the new labeling requirements will not take effect until July 1, 2016, at the earliest.  It is expected that major food industry members will file lawsuits to challenge the new law, which may further delay the effective date.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. The following categories are exempt under the new law:
  • Meat, even if the animal has been fed or injected with any food, drug or other substance produced with genetic engineering, provided that the animal was not itself produced with genetic engineering.
  • Any processed food that is subject to the new law solely because it includes one or more processing aids or enzymes produced with genetic engineering.
  • Alcoholic beverages.
  • Any processed food subject to the new law where the genetically engineered materials in the aggregate do not account for more than 0.9 percent of the total weight of the processed food.
  • Food that is not packaged for retail sale that is served, sold, or otherwise provided in any restaurant or other food establishment that is primarily engaged in the sale of food prepared and intended for immediate human consumption.
  • Medical food.
  • Food not known by the manufacturer to be genetically engineered, provided that the manufacturer obtain from its suppliers sworn statements that the food has not been knowingly or intentionally produced with genetic engineering and has been segregated from and has not been knowingly or intentionally commingled at any time with food produced with genetically modified engineering.
  • Food verified by an independent organization (approved by the state of Vermont) to be not knowingly or intentionally produced from genetically engineered products.

What are the penalties for failing to comply?

Violators may be fined a civil penalty up to $1000 per day, per non-compliant product.

Will retailers be held liable under the new law for selling food not properly labeled?

Generally, food retailers will not be held liable for failing to label a processed food unless the retailer is also the producer or manufacturer of the processed food.

Food retailers selling raw agricultural products will not be held liable for failure to label provided that the retailer obtains appropriate sworn statements from the supplier of the raw agricultural products.
Key definitions under the new law:

“Food” means food intended for human consumption. 

“Genetic engineering” is a process by which a food is produced from an organism or organisms in which the genetic material has been changed through the application of: (A) in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles; or (B) fusion of cells (including protoplast fusion) or hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, where the donor cells or protoplasts do not fall within the same taxonomic group, in a way that does not occur by natural multiplication or natural recombination.

“Processing aid” means: (A) a substance that is added to a food during the processing of the food but that is removed in some manner from the food before the food is packaged in its finished form; (B) a substance that is added to a food during processing, is converted into constituents normally present in the food, and does not significantly increase the amount of the constituents naturally found in the food; or (C) a substance that is added to a food for its technical or functional effect in the processing but is present in the finished food at levels that do not have any technical or functional effect in that finished food.

“Enzyme” means a protein that catalyzes chemical reactions of other substances without itself being destroyed or altered upon completion of the reactions.

“In vitro nucleic acid techniques” means techniques, including recombinant DNA or ribonucleic acid techniques, that use vector systems and techniques involving the direct introduction into the organisms of hereditary materials prepared outside the organisms such as micro-injection, chemoporation, electroporation, micro-encapsulation, and liposome fusion.

For more information about the GMO labeling law or other issues involving agriculture or food regulatory compliance, please contact Chris Predko (616.752.2190 or at the law firm of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.

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