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The View from the States By Gene Harrington, BIO Director of State Government Affairs, Food & Agriculture

June 23, 2016
Earlier this year, Inside the Beltway publications, other news outlets and activists wrote about the supposed inevitability of additional states enacting legislation in 2016 requiring the labeling of food containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.

Almost halfway into the year - and after most state legislatures have adjourned - no state has adopted a GMO labeling bill this year.  In fact, no state has adopted mandatory GMO labeling legislation in more than two years.  As a result, Vermont is still the only state to have enacted a GE food product labeling law whose implementation is not contingent upon other states' actions.

Overall, GMO labeling bills have been introduced this year in (or rolled over from last year) 20 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.   To date, however, only legislatures in the New England states and New York have seriously taken up GE food product labeling legislation in 2016.  Such proposals were given little to no consideration this year in legislatures in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Ironically, the most notable GMO legislation signed into law thus far in 2016 is a Vermont measure delaying until July 1, 2017 implementation of a citizen suit provision contained in the state's 2014 GMO labeling law.  The statute's GMO labeling requirement goes into effect on July 1.  Another significant action occurred in early February in New Hampshire when the state’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted down a GMO labeling bill by a 239-122 margin.

Legislatures in Connecticut and Maine - states with GE food product labeling laws that go into effect only after other states enact such laws - declined to pass bills expediting the implementation of said laws.  GMO labeling bills in New York and Rhode Island died last week when legislatures in those states wrapped up their work for the year.

The Massachusetts’ GMO labeling bill is still pending; however, prospects for the legislation are not very promising.  The Boston Globe, arguably the Commonwealth’s most influential newspaper, earlier this week opined against the bill for the third time in less than a year.  In Monday’s piece, the Globe’s editorial board termed the pending legislation “the worst bill of all.”

The Oregon House of Representatives in mid-February passed, by a 32-27 vote, legislation requiring the labeling of GE salmon.  The measure ultimately stalled in the Senate and died when the Oregon Legislature adjourned in early March.  GE salmon related bills also failed to pass legislatures in Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi and New York.