In what appears to be a major victory for the anti-GMO movement, a leaked USDA letter from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent to employees indicates that the department is creating a GMO-Free certification and labeling program to be operated under the Agricultural Marketing Service.
The voluntary program, created at the request of an unnamed "leading global company" will allow participating companies to pay USDA for inspection and certification services for specific products. Once approved, the company will be authorized to use a specific labelling seal indicating that the product is, in fact, GMO-free. It does not, however, require companies to disclose if they do utilize GMO ingredients in a specific product.
This is not the first attempt by a government agency to address GMOs. The label program is similar to a House bill introduced earlier in the year that was designed to block mandatory GMO labeling efforts around the country. The House bill would provide for USDA certification but would not make it mandatory. The bill would also override existing state laws that require labelling. Meanwhile, Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling law, the first of its kind, is currently being contested in court.
Currently, there is no government certification for GMO-free foods. Most companies interested in selling GMO-free foods turned to the nonprofit Non-GMO Project and their certification process. In 2014, Non-GMO Project certified food sales soared above $11 billion. As the anti-GMO movement has grown, major retailers like Chipotle and Panera have pushed to distance themselves from the controversial type of food and attract more consumers seeking GMO-free offerings.