Ever-controversial and endlessly debated, it would would appear that the GMO-labeling crowd gained a narrow victory over the past few weeks even though attempts at nationwide regulations failed. A number of major food companies unveiled plans to label their products in advance of a Vermont law that will require it, but the consequences of this move remain to be seen.
Last week, Mars, Kellogg and General Mills all announced plans to label their products made with GMO ingredients in advance of the Vermont law coming into effect July 1, joining the Campbell Soup Co. which did so in early January. Each of the companies noted that the production costs associated with crafting a label specific to the Vermont market would be prohibitive; rather than absorb these costs, the companies made the calculated decision to label their products.
It's an interesting tale, where a small state with about 626,500 residents was able to effectively enforce voluntary nationwide GMO labeling with the threat of state-wide enforcement when the U.S. Senate could not. Two years ago, the state made the decision to enforce GMO-labeling when it passed the law. Over the past two years, manufacturers have unsuccessfully tried to fight the bill. It seems they are relenting.
Despite the fact that the FDA believes that GMO ingredients do not differ in nutritional quality or safety when compared to non-GMO alternatives, nearly two-thirds of Americans support the labeling of foods that contain them. It would appear that the companies making the shift won't simply save on production costs; a hidden benefit could be that these brands are now poised to take advantage of this overwhelming consumer demand.
"This really depends on whether food companies have the courage to trust their customers enough to continue to use biotech-improved items even in the face of activist pressure. Will they stand-up for their decision (as the Girl Scouts have), or will they give in and start shifting to non-GMO ingredients?"
Savage argues that the current evidence suggest the large players in the food industry will start shifting to non-GMO ingredients, which means that farmers will need to forgo crop traits that they have grown accustomed to. Non-biotech crop varieties will also make it more difficult for farmers to employ environmentally-sound farming practices. They could also turn to cheaper non-GMO ingredients in other countries that may use environmental pollutants and pesticides that have long been banned in the U.S.
There's still some time for a plan regarding national labeling to be developed, but as it stands, Vermont seems to have set up a new standard for GMO ingredients, and the national players so far are complying.
Chris is a business writer and market analyst that focuses on the Markets, Legal and Washington sections of the Food Institute Report. In addition, he assists in compiling data for various Food Institute publications throughout the year. He invites you to contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about anything food-related.
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