Vermont relaxes enforcement of GM labeling requirements for the first year.

  • As the food industry is well aware, Vermont’s labeling requirements for genetically modified (GM) foods are set to take effect on July 1 of this year, with a six-month “safe harbor” provision thereafter.  In recent weeks, the Vermont Senate had been considering a legislative amendment to delay the private cause of action under the GM labeling law until 2017.
  • The Vermont Attorney General’s (AG) office has just issued updated GM labeling law resources — an annotated version of the GM labeling rule and a memo regarding enforcement priorities.  The annotated version of the rule contains several new comments or revisions to prior comments.  Further, the updated memo confirms the following:
    • Between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, upon receipt of a written complaint alleging that food offered for sale does not bear appropriate GM labeling, the AG’s office will provide the manufacturer of the product with a notice of alleged violation and a copy of the complaint.  Between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, no enforcement action will be commenced unless the manufacturer continues to be in violation of the law 30 business days after the date of the notice.
    • The private right of action has been delayed by legislative amendment until July 1, 2017.
  • In a nutshell, for the first full year in which the requirements will be effective, companies will have a 30-day “grace period” to correct violations without penalty and will be free from pursuit by private “bounty hunters.”  It is less clear how the AG’s office intends to treat situations in which an alleged violation is brought to their attention in a manner other than a “written complaint,” although one expects that a similar grace period should apply.  Thus, although this new development does not change the effective date of the GM labeling requirements themselves, it does give the food industry somewhat more “breathing room” on the enforcement front.