July 1st has come and gone, and the specifics of this date are extremely important for food labeling activists around the united states. Specifically, this date has induced the first national Genetic Engineering Labeling Law in the United States. This law is plan and simple, and it requires companies to put in plain English if the food product within the packaging has ingredients that use Genetic Engineering. Much more can be read at Vermont’s Right to Know GMO site.
Like California laws regulating emissions and toxicity of fibers or chemicals that can cause cancer, Vermont’s Label law is significant in a federal way. The specific reason is that it fills gaps in regulations and laws that congress has not preempted or superseded. However, on the heels of this victory – there is trouble brewing in the air. This trouble is the “Roberts-Stabenow ‘Dark Act'”. What is this act, why is congress so intent on making their own regulations and what could happen if they don’t make their own food labeling laws – are the 3 things I want to look at today.
To begin with, the Roberts-Stabenow act is a food labeling act attempted to be implemented by congress. This would be the first labeling of Genetically Engineered foods at this level. Currently there are no existing regulations on this type of food product at the national level. There are roughly 50 state led efforts of varying degree. The most successful of these is the Vermont law, which went into effect on July 1, 2016. This law, simply put, requires all companies to put a simple statement if any of the ingredients are genetically engineered.
In the Federal system that we Americans live under, there are essentially 50 plus governments that create a standard of rules for the entire federal system. This is because each state has sovereignty within it’s own borders. Due to this sovereignty, there are existing situations where, either for the methods of prosecution or based on the will or need for safety of the people, individualized regulations have been created. Such laws such as Cannabis regulation are an example of such sovereignty. Truth in Food Labeling is another. While states have rights to create their own regulations within their borders, these can not be in direct negation or conflict with the federal regulations. States can for example, enhance requirements on air pollution locally that are stronger than say – EPA regulations.
This is especially true where Federal regulations have not set up regulations in their place. When a state does come up with regulations that are more stringent or fill gaps that congress has not, it is possible for the states to step in and fill the role on a localized or even national level. Have you ever seen on games shows like The Price is Right or Wheel of Fortune where they give away cars and the announcer says “this automobile meets or exceeds California Emissions Standards”? As we can see in this New York State Government Website, California Emissions Standards are being adopted by multiple states around the nation as they were more stringent that those enacted by the federal government. In order to sell their cars to the largest single US market, manufacturers had to meet the California Standards. Instead of making separate autos for the rest of the states, these standards have become part of national automobile sales by default.
Why is this important? According to the American Jurisprudence 2d – Constitutional Law ( available at most libraries by signing in through their web systems):