Flurry of GMO Labeling News

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Mar 21, 2016

Food companies might be throwing up their collective hands, even as they hold out hope Congress will find a national solution to the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling issue. Along with General Mills, Mars Inc., has announced it has resolved to roll out GMO labeling nationwide as Congress hasn't figured out a federal solution for stakeholders to get behind before new labeling laws take effect in Vermont.

The U.S. Senate voted 48-49 on March 16 against a bill that would have blocked such state laws. 

The food industry is holding out hope that Congress will prevent states from requiring such labeling. Some companies say they plan to follow Vermont's law, which goes into effect in July, while others are considering pulling their products from the small state. The states of Maine and Connecticut have also passed laws that require such labeling if other nearby states put one into effect.

Mars explains on its website that "we not only ensure the safety of all raw materials in our products, we’re also committed to being transparent with our consumers so they can understand what’s in the products they love. In 2014, the state of Vermont passed a mandatory genetically modified (GM) ingredient labeling law that requires most human food products containing GM ingredients to include on-pack labeling as of July 2016. To comply with that law, Mars is introducing clear, on-pack labeling on our products that contain GM ingredients nationwide."

However, the company goes on to say it firmly believes GM ingredients are safe, and that food developed through biotechnology has been studied extensively and judged safe by a broad range of regulatory agencies, scientists and health professionals around the world.

Herr Foods says it may pull products from Vermont if the new labeling law takes effect. Senior vice president for sales and marketing, Daryl Thomas, said the cost of complying with multiple states' regulations would become too burdensome, reported San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Associated Press noted on March 19 that Campbell Soup Co. is also printing new national labels in preparation for Vermont's law, despite its opposition to state-by-state labeling requirements.

Many in the food industry argue there would be added costs associated with differently labeled products, which must be correctly sorted and distributed, and this would be difficult. The costs would likely be passed on to consumers, and some independent Vermont retailers are worried how it could affect their bottom line.

Leaders of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee said they are committed to finding a compromise. The top Democrat on the committee, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said that while several of her proposals have not been accepted, she still believes "we need and can achieve a policy that creates a uniform national system of disclosure ... in a way that has common sense and works for everybody," she stated.

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