Industry trade groups have offered staunch support for new legislation that would empower the USDA to enact a federal uniform labeling standard for foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and also for GMO-free foods.
Spearheaded by Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the proposal aims to pre-empt state GMO labeling laws – including a law in Vermont that would take effect in July -- and avoid the consumer confusion and industry disruption that would result from a state-by-state approach.
“We are very pleased that Chairman Roberts has scheduled a markup on legislation that meets an urgent need to avoid the inevitable chaos the food industry faces if left without a federal government-created standard definition that eliminates multiple state approaches," said FMI SVP Government and Public Affairs Jennifer Hatcher. "Without immediate action, costs in the supply chain will escalate rapidly, and once the resources are expended, consumer costs will inevitably rise."
Peter J. Larkin, president/CEO of the National Grocers Association (NGA), agrees: "NGA and its members believe consumers should have clear and consistent information to make informed buying decisions, which is why NGA supports a uniform and voluntary standard, regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to ensure that GMO labeling of food products is consistent and transparent to consumers nationwide."
The mandatory law in Vermont would require on-package labels of foods containing ingredients that have been genetically modified, and Snack Food Association President/CEO Tom Dempsey has urged Congress to "act swiftly" on Roberts' legislation, to strike down the law in Vermont and avoid "chaos in the market and higher costs."
"Absent a federal solution, manufacturers would have essentially three options in order to comply with state labeling laws – redesign packaging, reformulate products or halt sales to that state," Dempsey added. "Each option is difficult, costly, time-intensive, and, at worst, could eliminate jobs and consumer choice in the marketplace."
Other key industry members, however, were critical of the proposal.
“Just Label It strongly urges the Senate to reject the version of [the] DARK Act released tonight by Sen. Roberts," noted Gary Hirshberg, chairman of advocacy group Just Label it and Stonyfield Farm. "Allowing food companies to make voluntary disclosures will simply perpetuate the status quo that has left consumers in the dark. Nine out of 10 consumers — regardless of age, income or even party affiliation — want the right to know whether their food contains GMOs, and food leaders like Campbell's have shown that mandatory GMO labeling will not increase food prices." Mandatory-labeling proponents often refer to the legislation as DARK, standing for "Deny Americans the Right to Know."
Added Colin O’Neil, agriculture policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group: "It’s outrageous that some lawmakers in the Senate continue to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans. The version of the DARK Act that has been introduced by Chairman Roberts would rob Americans of their right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown. We continue to hope that thoughtful food companies like Campbell's will work with consumer groups to craft a nonjudgmental GMO disclosure to put on the back of food packaging. Americans should have the same right as citizens of 64 other countries to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown."
A markup for the proposal is scheduled for this Thursday, Feb. 25, for review.