An overwhelming majority of Americans want food containing GMOs labeled, but the government isn’t getting it done. News hit late last week that a "leading global company" had asked for a USDA Process Verified Program GMO-free label, and it seems the USDA is doing just that.

According to an Associated Press story on Huffington Post, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote a letter to employees on May 1 that outlined the USDA's plan for a USDA Process Verified label that will say a food is free of GMOs. The label, he said, was requested by a “leading global company,” but he did not identify the company in the letter.

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that because this new label is in the works, the bigger effort to get GMOs labeled has been thwarted — especially since a bill has been introduced in Congress dubbed the DARK Act. This bill would create a voluntary GMO label and make it illegal for states to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws. Does this USDA Process Verified Program GMO-free label have anything to do with the DARK Act? Will it make mandatory labeling laws illegal?

To find some answers, I went to the Non-GMO Project’s website. The Non-GMO Project is a third-party verification and labeling system for foods and products made without GMOs. It’s the only one of its kind in North America. If the USDA was creating its own label, one that would supersede the Non-GMO Project's verification and label, while simultaneously putting a stop to the efforts for mandatory GMO labeling, the Non-GMO project would have that information.

The news on the Non-GMO Project's website was reassuring. It said portions of Vilsack’s letter that went out to the media “have been widely taken out of context and misinterpreted.” This has nothing to do with the DARK Act or efforts to get mandatory labels on GMO foods.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has long offered a “Process Verified Seal,” which, according to the USDA’s website, “provides companies that supply agricultural products or services the opportunity to assure customers of their ability to provide consistent quality products or services.” Through this program, the USDA certifies a company’s own internal practices based on their documented quality management system.

Today’s news is that for the first time a company has sought the USDA’s Process Verified label in connection with its non-GMO claim. The USDA has NOT created its own non-GMO standard. Rather, as part of the existing AMS PVP [Process Verified Program], it has signed off on one company’s own non-GMO practices. There is no transparency as to what these practices are, and they are not based on a third party standard.

It seems nothing about this particular Process Verified Seal has a direct effect on the efforts to label GMOs or to make labeling GMOs illegal. It doesn’t mean the DARK Act has passed. It also doesn’t mean that the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, a bill that’s in direct opposition to the DARK Act, has failed.

All it means is that an unnamed company will probably be putting a USDA Process Verified label on its food that says it’s non-GMO. It will be much like Perdue’s USDA Process Verified label, which says the company's chicken is all vegetarian fed, contains no animal by-products, and is raised cage-free. It’s all for marketing purposes. That's it.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

What will the USDA's new label do to mandatory GMO labeling efforts?
A request for a USDA Process Verified label for its non-GMO product has raised questions. Here are some answers.