Barring a court injunction or higher ranking federal legislation, those selling food in Vermont must use package labels to declare foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). No matter where one falls in the heated debate, inconsistent state laws would raise costs for everyone and leave consumers even more confused about food.

While we support consumer choice when science proves differences exist, Vermont's food labeling law borders on impingement of interstate commerce by singling out unique food label requirements. That is one of the many reasons the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has become a named party in the lawsuit seeking to prevent the nation's first GMO labeling law from going into effect this July. Admittedly, those pressing the matter in the courtroom will be in for a tough fight.

The Green Mountain State's food labeling rules represent a series of land mines for food retailers. If manufacturers don't properly label foods containing GMOs, the Vermont legislation contains massive financial penalties through citizen enforcement. On the flip side, food vendors cannot simply label food as "potentially containing GMOs" because that language would not be in compliance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. It leaves marketers with an almost no-win scenario. That is why the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture held two lengthy meetings in his office to broker a deal between both sides. However, those discussions to craft a more workable law eventually broke down.

With 30 states now considering various GMO labeling laws, federal leaders must step forward and develop a national standard. Since federal agencies write rules based on science, that would be the preferred course of action over legislation. In lieu of that, a proposal to pre-empt the Vermont law has passed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives with 45 Democrats also voting in favor of a national GMO-labeling standard. The Senate discussion is locked in a fierce battle that may stalemate during this polarizing election season.

Given the deadlock, companies have no choice but to move forward with changing labels to market food in Vermont. The problem will become more exacerbated the instant additional states pass their own GMO labeling standards. That doesn't benefit farmers, manufacturers, grocers or consumers. We need national clarity.

This editorial appears on page 160 of the March 10, 2016 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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