By Sarah Breitenbach
For much of the last two years, Democratic state Sen. David Zuckerman of Vermont thought he was victorious. For more than a decade, the organic farmer had tried to force companies that sell food in his state to label products that include genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
His legislative colleagues finally agreed to his proposal in 2014, and the law took effect this July. But just weeks after it did, the U.S. Congress nullified it by passing a less restrictive federal labeling law.
Congress’ point, Zuckerman said, was not to encourage more food labeling nationwide, it was “to override Vermont’s law.” It also was meant to halt the spread of state labeling laws that could be in conflict with each other or require food companies to label products differently from state to state.
Although the federal government has set national standards for food, air and water quality, Congress typically leaves much of the policymaking that can affect environmental public health, such as auto emission inspections and wastewater treatment, to the states.
But as the food labeling law illustrates, Congress increasingly is stepping in on environmental health issues — at the urging of affected industries — to prevent a patchwork of state laws and regulations by setting national standards. In the last 12 months, Congress also signed a ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetics and an update to the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. [Read more…]