Predicting chaos after July 1 if Congress does not reach an agreement on a national standard for GMO labeling standard for food, leaders of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food pleaded for Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to make a deal on the issue.
“We have got to have that next step today,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in a June 16 teleconference. “We are very close, within inches.”
Only six legislative days remain in Congress until Vermont’s mandatory on-package labeling law goes into effect July 1, and leaders of the coalition said that failure by Congress to pass a national standard will have costly and lasting effects.
Conner urged lawmakers to finish the work on a compromise. Media reports indicate that the food industry might consider a deal making GMO disclosure mandatory if it involves non-package methods such as quick-response codes, websites or 1-800 numbers.
The United Fresh Produce Association recently released a document on how fresh produce marketers can comply with the Vermont labeling law. Only a few produce commodities are genetically engineered, unlike thousands of packaged food products that use GMO corn or soybean among their ingredients.
Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said Vermont is effectively dictating GMO lableing policies for the whole country. Many companies, she said, have already revised their packaging in preparation for the Vermont law.
“Inaction by Congress as the July 1 effect date looms has already cost our industry millions and millions of dollars,” she said.
She said mandatory on-package GMO labels don’t provide consumers with any useful information, will be seen as a warning and be used to stigmatize safe food and drinks.
Bailey said the coalition supports giving consumers more information about their food, including the food industry’s SmartLabel initiative that gives consumers detailed information about products via scannable labels. By the end of 2017, she said, more than 34,000 products will be using SmartLabel, including 22,000 products that will disclose information about GMO ingredients.
“We need the Senate to act quickly, and we believe the outline for bipartisan compromise is there,” she said.
Allowing a state-by-state patchwork of different laws to regulate the way products containing ingredients derived from biotechnology will confuse consumers, said Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute. “It will offer incomplete and conflicting guidance,” she said. Considering that various New England states may proceed with their own GMO label laws, Sarasin said a simple granola bar may be required to be labeled five different ways to satisfy requirements from different parts of New England.
She said 20% of consumers already scan a QR code or traditional bar code to learn more about food, and that trend illustrates the diversity of ways that consumers seek data.
“We strongly urge Sens. Roberts and Stabenow to reach an agreement on GMO labeling, so the Senate and the House can move the measure forward as quickly as they can.”