National GMO Labels a Step Closer, but Not Everybody’s Happy

Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday announced agreement on what could become the nation’s first mandatory national standard for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms — better known as GMOs.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican committee chairman, and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat, negotiated a compromise just ahead of the first mandatory state GMO labeling law taking effect in Vermont.

The national standard still faces a Senate vote and agreement from the House of Representatives, which voted against mandatory on-package GMO labels earlier this year.

The new agreement requires foods from big companies to carry one of three GMO notices — text, a symbol or an electronic digital link. Small food manufacturers would also have the option of using telephone numbers or websites on packages.

The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, a food industry group that lobbied extensively to avoid any mandatory on-package GMO labels accepted the Senate compromise as a solution that “increases consumer access to additional product information without stigmatizing a safe, proven technology that is relied on by American farmers.”

“While Vermont’s GMO on-package labeling mandate is set to take effect on July 1,” coalition leaders said in a statement, “we remain confident that, with today’s Senate agreement, a national solution can be passed into law by Congress before the negative impacts of Vermont’s law become pervasive. “

Just Label It, a group of consumer advocates and organic food producers welcomed the requirement for on-package GMO disclosure, but fretted over the digital link option.

“While we are pleased this proposal will finally create a national, mandatory GMO disclosure system, protects organic labels, and will cover more food than Vermont’s groundbreaking GMO labeling law, we are disappointed that the proposal will require many consumers to rely on smartphones to learn basic information about their food,” Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, said in a statement. “This proposal falls short of what consumers rightly expect — a simple at-a-glance disclosure on the package.”

Minnesota-based General Mills, which had already changed its packages to conform with the Vermont law, said it needed to study the Roberts-Stabenow plan to see if it would require any additional changes. But the company welcomed the possibility of a countrywide standard.

“Without this national solution we risked having a system of 50 different regulations impacting our packages,” the company said in a statement.

Hormel, another of Minnesota’s major food companies, endorsed the compromise and called for its passage in the Senate and the House.

“We understand our consumers’ expectations are evolving, especially when it comes to the ingredients in their food, and believe a solution like SmartLabel™ [the digital link option] will provide them with transparent, consistent, science-based product ingredient information” the company said in a statement.

Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee said he would study the Senate proposal.

“I am committed to finding a solution that balances the consumer desire for information with the scientific evidence of the safety of these crops,” Peterson said.

Source: Minneapolis StarTribune

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