Why GMO Labeling Needs National Standards

Jay Vroom

Jay Vroom (left) discusses trade policy with David Frabotta at a past AgriBusiness Global Trade Summit.

General Mills followed Campbell Soup Company in voluntarily labeling GMO ingredients in its various products to accommodate a Vermont (U.S.) law that goes into effect July 1. The move is considered rogue by many close to the issue because a national framework is still being debated among stakeholders.

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“It’s unfortunate that some of these food companies have decided to hit the panic button and go their own way,” CropLife America CEO Jay Vroom told AgriBusiness Global in late March after the General Mills announcement. “They [food companies] don’t appear to be all that organized right now, so hopefully that will come back to something that looks a little more like unity soon.”

A national policy is preferred so that labeling will be consistent on packaging throughout the United States. Label variations by state would increase the cost and complexity of packaging and create too much confusion for consumers. The result, inevitably, would be higher prices for food for consumers.

“At the core of this is a reminder that the cost and the availability of food is important,” Vroom says.

The most recent political debate at the national level came earlier this year when the Senate rejected a bill that would have prevented any state from requiring GMO labels on food. The bill, sponsored by Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, would have created a voluntary national labeling standard for foods containing GMOs, but it would have blocked Vermont from implementing its first-in-the-nation mandatory GMO labeling law. The Roberts bill failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward. The cloture motion failed 48-49. Now, a compromise will almost certainly have to be crafted, likely requiring mandatory labeling.

Monsanto’s Rob Fraley issued a statement in favor of GMO labeling in general, but admonished the current path toward a patchwork of standards.

Vroom says they are debating more than just the placement of commas on packaging. “There are people who would like a skull and crossbones as part of this warning label. So it’s a stalking horse for lots of mischief for sure.”

That mischief has been contained to closed-door meetings so far. Vroom says the crop protection industry, seed industry, farmers, Grocery Manufacturers Assn., and others have agreed in principle to a regulation that is uniform, technically correct, scientifically accurate and not financially burdensome. But the other side keeps moving the ball.

“The opposition is quite clear that they are using this as a platform to promote organic and try to scare people,” he says. “That’s wrong and nobody is willing to stand up and point a finger at who is really at fault here because our industry, farmers, grocery manufacturers and the rest of the food industry has gone to exceedingly great lengths to try to accommodate the other side, and every time we reach a compromise, they want to move the middle to the left again. That’s what this is really all about.”