By Doug Farquhar
State legislatures remain interested in genetically modified organisms (GMO), though the focus is shifting from labeling to sound science.
The labeling of GMOs in food dominated state legislative sessions in 2013 and 2014, with 28 states reviewing 95 bills on the subject. Three states—Vermont, Maine and Connecticut—passed laws requiring labeling. In 2015 the issue subsided a bit, with 23 states discussing GMO labeling, and no state adopting laws requiring labeling. Resolutions in Idaho and North Dakota passed in 2015, requesting Congress take up the issue instead of the states.
The topic has died down in part because Congress has introduced federal legislation—the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599)—that would pre-empt any state laws on the topic. In addition, the law in Vermont remains in flux, with several groups challenging the state’s authority to require the labeling of a product that the federal government considers safe. The laws in Maine and Connecticut do not go in effect until other states adopt similar provisions.
Legislation requiring governments to focus on sound science—or current scientific research—rather than the precautionary principal, which advocates a cautionary approach until scientific research can verify consequences, was adopted in eight states: Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas. It replaced GMO labeling as the most popular issue on the topic.
Read NCSL's review of state GMO legislation for 2015.
For more information on state GMO legislation, legislators or staff should contact Doug Farquhar at NCSL.
Doug Farquhar directs the Environmental Health Program at NCSL.