It's been less than a month since the Senate stopped an anti-GMO labeling act from becoming law which would have banned individual states from requiring GMO labeling on foods. Since the law did not pass, it looks like Vermont's GMO labeling law will be enacted as planned this July.
The law will require food manufacturers that use GMOs in their foods to label them as such if the foods are sold in Vermont. This creates a problem for the food manufacturers. Do they create one label for Vermont and another label for the rest of the country? What happens if a second state creates a law that require different wording than Vermont's? Do the food manufacturers now have to have three different labels?
That problem could be solved by the federal government creating a standard that requires clear, mandatory labeling on the package. Earlier this year Campbell's broke with the rest of the major food manufacturers and called on the federal government to create a standard for the entire U.S. Campbell's made this announcement before the Senate voted down the anti-GMO labeling bill, in hopes to avoid a "patchwork of state-by-state labeling laws" that they believe would create consumer confusion.
Other big food manufacturers must have been hoping for the Senate to pass the law, but planning for its defeat. In the days following the defeat, several of them made announcements that they would begin to label foods with GMOs, even though they stand by the safety of genetically modified ingredients.
Just two days after the bill failed to gain the votes it needed to pass, General Mills announced it would begin to label GMOs on all its products, not just the ones in Vermont. The company announced they would label nationally because labeling products just in one state would cost consumers too much money. In the next week or two after that, several other companies made similar announcements.
On March 22, ConAgra said it's urging Congress to pass a national solution to GMO labeling as quickly as possible. Until then it will begin to nationally label GMOs because state-by-state labeling laws would cause "significant complications and costs for food companies."
On March 23, Kellogg's released a statement from North American President Paul Norman who said the company would like a federal solution, but until then "in order to comply with Vermont’s labeling law, we will start labeling some of our products nationwide for the presence of GMOs beginning in mid-to-late April. We chose nationwide labeling because a special label for Vermont would be logistically unmanageable and even more costly for us and our consumers."
Mars also has an undated statement on its website in response to the Vermont law. "To comply with that law, Mars is introducing clear, on-pack labeling on our products that contain GM ingredients nationwide."
Only one of these five big food companies, Campbell's, is calling on the federal government to create a mandatory labeling law. The federal or national solution that General Mills, ConAgra and Kellogg's would like is not necessarily a mandatory labeling law. A national solution that would satisfy them would be the same national solution that was in the anti-GMO labeling bill that was struck down — one where the government sets standards for voluntary labeling and states would not be allowed to legally require labeling.
Until we have a national, mandatory GMO labeling law, the possibility of big food companies adding these voluntary labels to their packaging while continuing to pour money into fighting labeling laws is very real. For those who want GMO labels on all foods to be on them indefinitely, the fight is not over yet.