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2015 State GE Food Products Labeling Legislative Scorecard

June 29, 2015
State legislatures regularly tackle contentious issues.  In recent years, however, few policy matters have been as heated and wide ranging as the debate about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Over the past few years, legislatures in 41 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have considered bills pertaining to the labeling of food derived from genetically engineered (GE) crops or related legislation. Thus far in 2015, legislatures in 25 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have taken up 88 such bills. By way of comparison, in 2014, legislative bodies in 28 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico considered almost 70 GE food product labeling and similar bills.

No mandatory GE food products labeling legislation has come remotely close to passing in 2015. In fact, almost seven months into 2015, such legislation has not even been voted on by a single legislative chamber. Moreover, most mandatory state GMO labeling bills have already died or do not appear viable at this point.

Once again legislatures in Connecticut and Maine have enacted the most notable GMO legislation in 2015. In 2013 and 2014, the Constitution State and Pine Tree State, respectively, approved the first two state GMO labeling laws, although implementation of both statutes is contingent upon other states enacting similar laws. In May, the Connecticut General Assembly and Maine Legislature easily passed bills exempting non-alcoholic malt beverages from their GE food products labeling laws. The measure sailed through the Connecticut House and Senate by votes of 125-20 and 34-0, respectively, while the Maine Legislature approved the legislation by voice vote. Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy and Maine Governor Paul LePage signed the bills into law.

In March, legislatures in Idaho and North Dakota approved non-binding resolutions reaffirming that the regulation and oversight of GE food is a federal responsibility. The Michigan House of Representatives in May approved a resolution urging Congress to pass legislation such as the pending Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act; the Michigan Senate is considering similar legislation as are the New Jersey Assembly and Senate.

Meanwhile, a bill encouraging mediation over biotech crop disputes has passed the Oregon House of Representatives and Senate and is on its way to Governor Kate Brown’s desk for her consideration. The legislation is a byproduct of the Genetically Engineered Agriculture Task Force that former Governor John Kitzhaber formed last year.

Some of the more extreme GMO legislation considered this year include a Maine bill expanding the scope of the state’s 2014 GE food products labeling law to include medicine and separate New York measures banning the use and requiring the labeling of vaccines containing GMOs. Such legislation may be an example of anti-GMO activists joining forces with anti-vaccination groups.