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Patchwork of GMO Labeling Laws Could Affect Producers

Mar 09, 2016

In today’s DairyLine broadcast, Emily Lyons, IDFA director of regulatory affairs and counsel, said the growing patchwork of state laws on labeling genetically modified (GMO) products could eventually have an impact on what dairy producers feed their cows. 

"As I’m sure you’ve heard quite a bit in the news, the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law for foods will go into effect in Vermont later this year. Dairy processors that sell products into Vermont will be changing their labels very soon to comply with this new law.

"Starting July 1, 2016, foods sold in Vermont at retail, like grocery stores or gas stations, must be labeled when they are produced with genetic engineering. While this may seem straightforward, the law is anything but. It is riddled with exemptions and detailed recordkeeping requirements that make it a virtual quagmire for dairy processors to comply.

"The good news is that there are some exemptions in the law that help the dairy industry, including the fact that foods that are animal products are exempt – this includes milk even if the cow was fed GM feed or administered a GM hormone or vaccine.

"You might be asking yourself, what does this law have to do with me if animal products are exempt? Unfortunately, that exemption only applies to foods that are 100 percent derived from an animal source so white milk would not require labeling. But as soon as other ingredients are added to the food, dairy processors have to figure out if any are derived from a GM crop.

"For example, if a flavored milk is sweetened with sugar from GM sugar beets or uses corn syrup from GM corn, that milk will likely have to be labeled. That is unless the dairy processor can show that the sugar was sourced from non-GM crops. This process gets even more complicated when other ingredients are used in foods like cheese, yogurt and ice cream.

"We’ve heard lots of cries of “Just label it!” by advocates who support mandatory labeling. But Vermont’s law doesn’t make it easy for dairy processors to just slap a label on their products even if they are exempt. That is because dairy processors are required to track down the source of all of their ingredients and keep extensive records to show the food was properly labeled when it was sold into Vermont.

"No matter where you stand on the issue of GMO labeling, Vermont’s law is just the first in a potential patchwork of state laws that dairy processors will have to comply with. Keep in mind, one of those laws could eventually require labeling for milk and dairy products from GM crop fed animals, which could have an impact how you decide to feed your cows."

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