GMO Labeling — Step on Up!

March 23, 2016

In 2014, Vermont became the first U.S. state to pass a law requiring food companies to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on packaging.

On July 1, 2016, that piece of legislation will take effect, and all products on grocery store shelves in the state of Vermont containing GMOs must be labeled, or food companies will be subject to fines.

Maybe We Need to Label for GMOs

The first issue with Vermont’s new law is the misinformation that it heavily implies. Requiring the labeling of GMO ingredients sends a message that reads “GMOs are harmful and require labeling to protect the American public.” Which would be perfectly acceptable, if it were true.

The fact is, despite any controversy surrounding GMO foods, the vast majority of food health authorities, including the U.N. World Health Organization, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and many more have all determined there is no health risk associated with genetically modified foods or ingredients. In fact, studies have shown that genetically engineered crops have increased yield and reduced the use of pesticides — a win-win for an ever-growing population in need of food.

Still, GMO labeling supporters stand up for the consumers right to choose what they eat, making the distinction down to every ingredient.

With Vermont set to be the first state to enact its GMO labeling law, why is one state such a big deal?

Labeling and Distribution and Cost, Oh My!

The food industry argues that the law doesn’t simply affect Vermont, and they have a point. Our food distribution system isn’t prepared to accommodate different labels for different states. For decades, the industry has relied on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to give companies clear, and national, guidance on what they are required to divulge to consumers.

The task of making different labels and ensuring they get to their respective states isn’t as easy as it may seem to the consumer, and it certainly isn’t as cheap. Ensuring Vermont labels end up in Vermont and not South Dakota or Florida puts a lot of pressure on the distribution chain, which would have to get larger to accommodate more specifics.

Never mind what it will cost the food industry; a recent study from Cornell University found that New York’s current proposal of mandatory GMO labeling would cost American families an average of $500 per year at the checkout aisle.

The study also found that families who choose to buy organic food instead of conventional foods containing GMOs could see their food prices increase as much as $1,556 per family per year. Additionally, New York could expect to see millions of dollars lost in revenue to implement the new requirements and to account for a loss in farm income.

Nevertheless, July 1, 2016, is quickly approaching for the state of Vermont.

Who Is Going First?

Campbell Soup is.

In January 2016, Campbell’s became the first major food company to begin disclosing the presence of genetically engineered ingredients. A move specifically cited in reaction to Vermont’s upcoming legislation.

The company was “optimistic” about a federal solution being reached prior to the July 2016 effective date, but has prepared to label all products across the portfolio in the meantime.

Any Other Takers?

General Mills announced this March that it will be the second largest food company to start using GMO labeling nationwide.

“We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers, and we simply won’t do that,” Jeff Harmening, head of General Mills’ U.S. retail operations, said in a post on a company blog.

“The result: Consumers all over the country will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favorite General Mills food products.”

We’ll Be Watching.

As a copywriter, I’ve got to ask — Is this the beginning of a new national standard in my already lengthy list of required disclaimers? And how will GMO labeling truly affect sales for Campbell’s, General Mills and the farmers who grow their food? You can bet Paulsen will be watching. Stay tuned for future updates!