Microsession: GMO And Non-GMO Food Labels: Implications of New Federal Law

BY MINDY HERMANN, Produce Business

Professor John Bovay, University of Connecticut

Professor John Bovay, University of Connecticut

Concern about genetically modified (GMO) and genetically engineered (GE) food items and ingredients has infiltrated the fresh produce department, according to University of Connecticut professor John Bovay. The debate regarding whether GMO and GE items should be labeled pits consumer advocacy groups against the science community, farmers and biotech firms. Some non-governmental organizations (NGO) take a public stance against a particular entity, such as Monsanto.

Those in favor of labeling cite potential and irreversible risks to health and/or the environment, along with the right to know if GMOs are present. They want to be able to choose whether or not to consume GMO foods and ingredients.

The group against labeling notes the lack of scientific evidence of health risks, the lack of connection between mandatory labels and health and environmental issues, costs of reformulation and labeling, impact on farmers and industry, and effects on consumer choice. Furthermore, consumers might believe if a food product does not carry a non-GMO label, then it has GMOs.

No federal standard currently defines what non-GMO means on a product label. Privately, the Non-GMO Project dominates industry with its certification of more than 40,000 products. Pending government legislation that was passed in 2016 will require mandatory disclosure and nullifies individual state laws. Until final USDA regulations are published, uncertainties exist regarding required and exempt foods, product testing requirements, compliance costs, penalties for non-compliance, requirements for newer technologies such as CRISPR and TALEN, and the impact of GE labeling. Retailers may avoid carrying products with a GE disclosure statement in response to activist pressure.