Vermont’s GMO-labeling law, which kicked in July 1, is probably going to be overridden by a less stringent federal law, although that’s not certain yet. But as UnDark magazine notes in this fine piece (which, as is semi-obligatory these days, contains several pop-culture video clips), dairy-farm-loving Vermont found a way to exempt dairy, especially cheese, a big state industry.

But the decision isn’t just kowtowing to financial interests, although you have to believe that’s part of it – the article notes that the science is tricky:

But in most cases, scientists suggest, cheese ought to be exempt on its face. The only real hitch might have been chymosin, the rennet-like enzyme used to coagulate milk into cheese. It’s made by genetically-engineered yeast – or mold or bacteria – that are fermented to produce massive quantities of the enzyme. This technique was approved in 1990 as an alternative to slaughtering calves to extract the enzyme from their stomachs.

That might seem to argue for GMO labeling under Vermont’s new law, but the devil is in the details: Once chymosin is purified and all cellular material is cleared away, it is just isolated protein. “Chymosin is not genetically modified,” said John Lucey, a professor of food science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It wouldn’t be scientifically accurate to call the enzyme itself genetically modified. That’s not true.”

Most scientists, of course, suggest that fears over genetically modified ingredients are overblown, and that the push for labeling ismisguided. But for cheese lovers who aren’t so sure, the purification of chymosin might come as a relief

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that labeling GMO is misguided because GMO isn’t a “thing” the as is, say, growth hormones for dairy cows (another food/science labeling dispute). It’s a process, so the label “contains GMO” is like a label saying “contains plants grown with no-till agriculture” – it’s meaningless.


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