July 1, 2013

Connecticut and Maine Enact Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Laws But Delay Effect

Connecticut and Maine have become the first states to pass laws mandating the labeling of foods with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients (Maine law; Connecticut law). The laws, however, are conditional in that they will not take effect until a critical mass of similar laws is enacted by other states; thus, they remain pending in actual effect. The battles over the labeling of GE food have continued for years, with efforts at state and national levels (see here and here). Maine will mandate the phrase “Produced with Genetic Engineering" and the Maine law contains this synopsis: 
This bill requires disclosure of genetic engineering at the point of retail sale of food and seed stock and provides that food or seed stock for which the disclosure is not made is considered to be misbranded and subject to the sanctions for misbranding. The bill provides that food or seed stock may not be labeled as natural if it has been genetically engineered. The bill exempts products produced without knowledge that the products, or items used in their production, were genetically engineered; animal products derived from an animal that was not genetically engineered but was fed genetically engineered food; and products with only a minimum content produced by genetic engineering. The bill also provides that the disclosure requirements do not apply to restaurants, alcoholic beverages or medical food. 
The Maine law embeds the following trigger: it “goes into effect when five other states, or any state, or states with a total population of 20 million people, enact labeling requirements for genetically modified (GM) foods.” The Connecticut law dictates labeling “in the case of such food for retail sale contained in a package, with the clear and conspicuous words: "Produced with Genetic Engineering." Here is a similar trigger in Connecticut, activating the law in a year where the following conditions occur: 
(1) Four states, not including this state, enact a mandatory labeling law for genetically-engineered foods that is consistent with the provisions of this subsection, provided one such state borders Connecticut; and (2) the aggregate population of such states located in the northeast region of the United States that have enacted a mandatory labeling law for genetically-engineered foods that is consistent with this subsection exceed twenty million based on 2010 census figures. 
The northeast region defined in the Connecticut law consists of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It could be argued that the approach of Maine and Connecticut to a GE food labeling law – not with immediate effect, but conditional on other political developments – can recruit support from hesitant politicians because it remains aspirational. That might encourage other states to follow suit. At the federal level, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, has been introduced to mandate a federal scheme for GE food labeling; such bills have been introduced for years in Congress. Prospects for federal legislation, however, remain dim.

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