With Vermont’s GMO labeling mandate set to take effect July 1 and no national labeling standard in sight, Mars Inc. and Kellogg Co. are joining General Mills and Campbell Soup Co. in developing their own national GMO labels to comply with the state’s law.
Mars quietly released its position on GMO labeling on Friday, the same day General Mills made its announcement. In brief statement posted to its website, Mars said the decision to label its products nationwide is a direct result of Vermont’s legislation, adding that the company believes genetically modified ingredients are safe.
“Food developed through biotechnology has been studied extensively and judged safe by a broad range of regulatory agencies, scientists, health professionals and other experts around the world,” the statement reads.
At the same time, the company says it also is “committed to being transparent with our consumers so they can understand what’s in the products they love.”
In a statement made to Agri-Pulse.com, Kellogg North America President Paul Norman said that unless Congress is able to pass a national labeling law quickly, the company will start labeling its products as “Produced with Genetic Engineering” as soon as next month. Like other food manufacturers, Norman said Kellogg’s decision to label products nationally, rather than just for Vermont, came down to cost, noting that labeling products just for one state would be costly both for the company and for consumers who buy Kellogg products.
The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CSAF), an organization committed to educating the public on the safety of GMOs and advocating for a uniform labeling solution, said in an email following these announcements that while some companies are “being forced to make costly labeling decisions,” others are choosing to do away with GM ingredients or products altogether “due to fears that Vermont’s law will scare consumers away from ingredients deemed safe by the top science and regulatory bodies around the world.” The organization cited a recent Wall Street Journal article that details the difficult decisions companies now face.
The Journal points to companies like Vermont’s Fresh Pasta that fear a GMO label will be a scarlet letter and so are working to replace modified ingredients in their products. In Vermont Fresh Pasta’s case, that means replacing canola oil, which is often modified, with olive oil, which has no GM counterpart. The company’s co-owner Ken Jarecki told the Journal that the swap has raised company costs by 10 percent and has not boosted sales.
Vermont’s law also includes a number of exemptions that have some companies scratching their heads; the Journal notes that many businesses are not sure if their products require a special label or are exempt. The government office responsible for enforcing the labeling law has been so flooded with questions from businesses that it has said it will no longer reply to emails regarding labeling and has asked companies to stop calling, according to the article.
“With widespread confusion, food companies (are) facing $1,000 a day, per-product fines if their products remain on shelves, higher costs and reduced options,” said CFSAF. “This is just a taste of what’s to come if Congress can’t find a compromise to ensure we don’t see a patchwork of state food labeling laws across the country.”