Is Your Packaging Ready for Vermont GMO Legislation?

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

May 02, 2016

The packaging departments of food and beverage companies are likely swamped, as they have just a few months to get ready for the July 1 deadline of Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling law. If they don't meet this deadline, the companies withstand a penalty of $1,000 per day. Packaging engineers, label graphics designers and marketers will no doubt be working on the product development side of their job responsibilities finalizing GMO labeling changes. These include productivity and cost-saving measures.

If a company's products contain GMO ingredients, the company then needs to determine whether the product or an ingredient is exempt from the law. A statement about the GMO ingredients may need to be added, such as "(partially/may be) produced with genetic engineering," per the law's requirements. These updates will need to be made to packaging graphics, printing plates and printed packaging, as manufacturers will have to redesigning packaging for all SKUs across their portfolios, or at least those sold in Vermont.

With that comes material choices, number of colors and label size, which can greatly impact the price of new printing plates, according to Packaging Digest. And this must be done for every unique SKU. Packaging engineers may determine cost management strategies to offset the costs of the redesign, such as change labeling materials, inks, coatings and decorating techniques involved.

Most food producers like Mars and General Mills have announced that they will change and relabel all of their nationwide products, not just products sold in Vermont. Many others began working on these changes earlier this year, including a handful of large companies committed to GMO labeling for all of their products sold across the U.S. The changes can be costly to accommodate just one state's market. Some manufacturers also may have decided not to sell their products in Vermont at all, and pulled their distribution from the state. But doing so involves costs of its own costs, such as the potential costs of lost sales.

Cost is a top concern with packaging revisions. Companies across the country may need to add a statement about GMO ingredients, such as "(partially/may be) produced with genetic engineering," per the law's requirements. For the next few months, any productivity or cost savings efforts will have to be shelved until the teams work through initiating the new graphics changes. These updates will also affect many types of package structures as well, and these finalized, newly labeled structures must be shipped to the processing plant for filling.

The Senate failed to advance a bill banning states from requiring food packaging to disclose GMO ingredients in products. Nothing can be done to change that course within the next two months. In addition, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and others filed a lawsuit following passage of the bill some 18 months ago, challenging Vermont’ labeling mandate. Litigation in that case is ongoing.

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