Food Marketers & Producers: Prepare For New GMO Labeling Regs

You’ve got upcoming USDA, FDA, and state rules to contend with—as well as a new ‘healthy’ definition

Strong and widespread pressure from industry groups, health advocates, and the general population has resulted in a long list of new labeling requirements for food products—and that includes genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many of the new rules going into effect this year. But in some cases, rules vary from state to state, and figuring out what you need to include on your packaging can’t be solved with a simple Google search—you need a pro on your side.

Regulatory compliance expert Norma Skolnik outlines the status of GMOs in the United States and relevant policies in her live webinar for AudioEducator, “USDA GMO Labeling: What to Expect from the 2018 Final Rule.” Skolnik goes in depth to educate you on global GMO labeling regulations, individual state rules, and the role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Public Sentiment Is Powerful—If Ill-Informed

In 2016, Congress passed a bill that made it mandatory for food producers to tell their customers if there were GMOs in their food. The bill was “quick to stir the continued controversy about the safety of genetically engineered cops and a consumer’s right to avoid them,” the Washington Post noted in 2016.

The rule was a nod to Americans’ support of the idea of GMO food labeling, even if most consumers didn’t know a thing about the safety of genetically modified food, the Annenberg Public Policy center found: “Most Americans are unaware of the scientific consensus that there is no substantiated evidence showing that genetically modified foods are unsafe. And a majority of the public (58 percent) acknowledges having only a fair or poor understanding of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).”

Whether you support the idea or not, you largely have Vermont to thank for the issue becoming mainstream. In 2014, the state passed legislation mandating food labeling; the Grocery Manufacturers Association fought the bill unsuccessfully.

Brace for ‘GMO 2.0’

Now, federal laws signed by President Obama are set to go into effect. This month the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to release it GMO disclosure label rules, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving on with its own set of label initiatives. Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a law that would actually weaken label requirements for restaurants and some retailers.

This complicated set of rules, noted lawyer Ryan Fournier, will have far-reaching effects, including a first-ever definition of “healthy” as it applies to labeling.

“USDA is on track in meeting its statutory deadline to publish final rules on GMO label requirements by the July 2018 deadline,” Fournier wrote. “This is surprising, given USDA is considering many important questions in order to publish these final rules.”

Already, though, lawsuits are underway alleging that products labeled “GMO-free” and “non-GMO” are false and misleading, wrote attorney Kimberly Bousquet.

“Defendants in these lawsuits have challenged the claims (so far unsuccessfully) as being preempted by the GE Disclosure Law, which expressly preempts states from establishing their own GE food labeling requirements,” Bousquet wrote. “This preemption provision was included in the GE Disclosure Law to stop states (e.g., Vermont) from implementing conflicting GE labeling requirements.”

And don’t think that this month’s rules will settle the matter, noted the Wall Street Journal. What comes after GMO labeling? The fight over “gene-edited food,” or “GMO 2.0.”

“The agricultural industry is desperate to avoid a repeat of the acrimonious and costly battles it fought over the genetically modified crops currently on the market,” the paper reported, “even though authorities such as the Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization have deemed them safe.”

What does this all mean for you? Skolnik says food marketers, labeling managers, and food distributors need to be prepared to act fast when the regs come out.

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