Nov. 9 2014
Ed and Lea Arnold of Lyndonville started giving peanut brittle to family and friends as a Christmas presents four years ago. Now, they sell a range of Vermont Peanut Brittle products at farmers markets, festivals and several stores.
Under a new Vermont law, the Arnolds will likely be required to place a label on their old-fashioned confection that says, “Produced With Genetic Engineering.”
Some products contain a voluntary label indicating they were produced without GMOs.
That’s because the family company uses Karo Light corn syrup to make the candy. Processed ingredients like corn syrup are often made with genetically engineered crops, and under a new Vermont law that fact must be disclosed.
“It seems like corn is the problem child of all of it. There’s barely any corn now that is not GMO,” Lea Arnold said.
Vermont is the first state in the nation to make GMO labeling mandatory for food manufacturers and retailers. The state is now seeking comments on a set of proposed rules that are to be finalized by July 2015. Food purveyors must label certain products containing genetically engineered ingredients sold after July 1, 2016.
The Arnolds and other specialty food manufacturers gathered at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier on Thursday to hear a presentation by the Vermont Attorney General’s office on the proposed GMO labeling rules.
If manufacturers choose not to label their products, they will have to prove their products are GMO-free by either obtaining sworn statements from suppliers or by hiring a third party to verify the supply chain, under the proposed rules.
Some manufacturers already verify that ingredients are not genetically engineered so they can label their products as non-GMO.
“It’s another way of having product differentiation,” said Jack Gilbert, founder of Manchester-based Southwestern Bar and Grill, who also attended the presentation.
Five years ago, Gilbert launched an “all natural” chip, salsa and hot sauce company called Gringo Jack’s. He is in the process of certifying the products as non-GMO certified. It will cost the company about $4,000 to verify that the 23 products in his lineup do not contain GMO ingredients.
“You have to go though ingredient by ingredient,” Gilbert said. “You need to go back not only to the distributor of it to you, but sometimes further back to the main source, which on some things can be daunting. Where did your pepper come from? Where does you cinnamon come from?”
Some producers say the law should have gone further to require dairy and meat products to be labeled if the animal consumes genetically engineered feed. Dairy and meat products are exempt under the law.
“I don’t know enough about the health issues of the whole thing, but it is an environmental issue for a lot of people,” said Cheryl DeVos, co-owner of Kimball Brook Farm in North Ferrisburgh.
DeVos said her 200-cow dairy farm is certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. She said consumers who oppose genetic engineering would like to know that their dairy products did not come from animals who consumed feed containing GMOs.
She said NOFA-VT checks her feed records at least once per year.
“They’re checking our records, seeing where we’re buying out feed from, then they are going to those companies and checking where they are buying their feed from,” she said.
The Arnolds are not concerned that the labeling law will affect their business.
“A real health nut isn’t going to buy our product anyways,” Ed Arnold said. “I mean, it’s made with sugar. It’s more of a treat.”