Spring may have only just begun, but the food industry has summer on the mind. In July, Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law will go into effect, and with a federal legislative solution looking less likely, companies are trying to figure out how to respond to the new standards. Increasingly, it looks like many in the industry may opt to label GMOs nationwide.
The candy company Mars is following General Mills’ and Campbell’s actions as the new standards loom. “Mars is introducing clear, on-pack labeling on our products that contain GM ingredients nationwide,” ahead of the Vermont regulations kicking in on July 1, the company wrote in a blog post published on its website Friday. In February, the company announced that it would remove artificial colors from its products, including brightly hued M&Ms.
“We are confident that by labeling genetically engineered ingredients, Mars, General Mills, Campbell’s and other companies will maintain the trust of Americans who want the right to know whether their food contains GMOs,” Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs with the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “As more companies take this step, we hope Congress will see the benefit of crafting a national GMO labeling solution that works for both industry and consumers.”
But if the outcome for consumers is the same in all three cases—GMO ingredients labeled on products nationwide—that isn’t the case on the legislative front. While Campbell’s is supporting mandatory GMO labeling on the federal level, General Mills has made it clear in an interview with Politico that it continues to support a voluntary federal label standard along the lines of what’s proposed in the so-called DARK Act. As a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Mars has also been involved in lobbying for a voluntary federal standard for GMO labeling.
In light of the labeling announcement, “Mars supports efforts to find a single, national GMO labeling definition,” company spokesman Jonathan Mudd wrote in an email to TakePart. “We want to avoid a 50-state patchwork of different requirements.”
When asked whether the company would support a federal mandatory labeling standard, such as the one proposed by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, Mudd said, “We can live with mandatory on-pack labeling as envisioned under the Merkley bill. However, we think the best course is to go ahead and let the Vermont law come into effect, allow companies to label accordingly, and then ask the USDA to come up with a national definition and a national disclosure system.”
Mandatory labeling has broad support from consumers, with more than 90 percent of Americans saying that products made with genetically engineered ingredients should be labeled as such. At the same time, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the most basic elements of the issue, such as what GMOs are and whether or not they present a health risk. According to a Pew survey published last year, for example, 67 percent of respondents said that scientists did not have a clear understanding of the health concerns that GMOs present, and there is no sound scientific research linking the consumption of genetically engineered foods with any health programs.
While the political question of labeling GMO ingredients remains open, the Vermont law has shown that regional regulation can have a major influence. Only 626,000 people live in Vermont, but these huge companies don’t want the financial and procedural burden of having to label only products that will be sold in the state. So a company such as Mars, which makes around $11 billion annually on domestic sales, will change its labeling across the board. With the DARK Act recently voted down in the Senate and more states considering their own laws, it seems likely that other companies will follow these three and adopt GMO labels for products nationwide.
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