GMO labeling law to stress packaging departments

Rob Kaszubowski in Labeling on April 26, 2016

Vermont law deadline requires brand owners to communicate GMO ingredients and provide transparency to consumers, but will leave their packaging teams swamped for the next 2+ months.

 

In case you had missed it, the latest verdict in the Vermont genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling saga is in: Food manufacturers have until July 1st to update their package labeling to include GMO information.

As a recap: Back in 2014, Vermont initiated a law to require all foods containing GMOs to be clearly labeled on all food packaging.

Congress had established a committee to block the labeling change. However, the Senate failed to advance a bill that would ban states from requiring food packaging to disclose the presence of GMOs. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar helped lead efforts to stomp this one down, likely thinking of the holistic impact this change would have on Minnesota based food producers General Mills, Land O’Lakes and Hormel. This puts the GMO law back in motion and will go into effect in July, 2016—in barely more than two months!

Thus food producers have until July 1st to comply with the label requirements or withstand a penalty of $1,000 per day. Most food producers, including Mars and General Mills, have publicly stated that they will change and relabel all of their nationwide products, not just products sold in Vermont.

Other companies have gone the opposite route and stated that they will stop selling their products in Vermont altogether. Most likely they made a business case to determine that redesigning and relabeling all of their products just to appease one single state did not make financial justification.

As a consumer, I’m all on board with transparency and informing consumers exactly what goes in their food and where it comes from. However, when I put on my packaging engineer hat, I can’t help but think, “Wow, that is a ton of work to do in a short amount of time.”

 

Shift in efforts

 

Packaging teams, which are often stretched thin, must now be pushed further to initiate thousands of new packaging SKUs throughout their new product development systems.

Packaging engineers typically focus on 3 key areas:

  • New product development and commercialization;
  • Productivity and cost savings initiatives; and
  • Putting out fires.
  • The GMO labeling law will then require engineers to shift and focus their efforts solely on new product development. This means that any productivity or cost savings efforts will be put by the wayside for the next 3-4 months as teams work through initiating new graphics changes.

     

    Impact on packaging engineering teams

     

    No change happens in a vacuum, and the same is true for this new requirement. Here are some of the key impact areas that will keep our fellow packaging engineers busy:

    New packaging graphics need to be created to include new GMO labeling

    This means that thousands of new projects need to be initiated across multiple New Product Development platforms and systems.

    This will affect many types of packaging structures: bags, stand-up pouches, canisters, cartons.

    New print plates required

    New graphics means new print plates. Depending on the material, number of colors and size, this could be thousands of dollars per unique SKU!

    New printed packaging

    Once Step 1 and 2 are completed, we need to get our newly labeled packaging in place and from the packaging supplier to the manufacturing facilities

     

    Given the short time frame, there is plenty of work to be done and at a significant cost as well.

    Will companies have enough internal resources to push this change through?

    Will all food manufactures be able to meet the July 1st deadline?

     

    For more on the GMO issue from a regulatory perspective see FDA denies petition for GMO labeling, published January 2016.

     

    Rob Kaszubowski is the Engineering Manager at Chainalytics, where he is focused on reducing product damage and implementing packaging cost savings while leading a team of packaging consultants in Design for Distribution initiatives. Rob also contributes to the Packaging Matters blog.

    Connect with Rob on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/robkaszubowski and on Twitter @KazPack1

     

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    Vermont's GE labeling law was passed on May 8, 2014, to be enacted on July 1, 2016 and the guidance for food manufacturers from the VT AG's Office was out over a year ago. The only way this can be seen as a tight time line is if you or your CEO have been sitting on your hands and not paying attention to this law (which has been very hard to do, given how extensively this issue has been covered by food and packaging trade media.
    The law gives an exemption to prescribed medical food but not to over the counter dietary foods such as sugar free products for diabetics. These are niche markets that won't be able to afford the switchover no matter how much time is given. The American Diabetic Association should sue the maple syrup out of Vermont for this.