De Facto GMO Labeling System Causes Confusion: Vilsack

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By Casey Wooten

May 25 — In the absence of Congress creating a national standard for labeling products made from genetically modified organisms, a flawed, de facto system has cropped up, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

After a Senate bill establishing a voluntary labeling system fell short in March, companies including General Mills, Inc. and Kellogg Co. began labeling products on their own (See previous story, 04/28/16).

“The problem with all of that is that there's no consistency, there's no predictability, there's no stability,” Vilsack told an audience at the Organic Trade Association's annual policy summit May 25. “The consumer can be easily confused, because everybody might do it slightly differently and there's no standard.”

Vilsack, who supports a mandatory labeling regime, called for Congress to pass a national labeling bill so that consumers can better choose between products made from organic or larger-scale, traditional farming methods.

Working on It

A mandatory labeling law is set to go into effect July 1 in Vermont, which could spark other states to enact similar rules. Most mandatory labeling backers and voluntary labeling backers say that a state-by-state, patchwork system would generate confusion and unnecessary costs, but so far lawmakers haven't been able to bridge the gap between the two policy positions.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told reporters May 24 that he and committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are still working on a deal and “getting down to a much narrower scope” on points of disagreement.

Still, it's unlikely they will reach a compromise before lawmakers break for Memorial Day recess, he said.

“We're just not there yet,” Roberts said.

Senators are expected to return June 6.

That leaves a scant 19 working days for Congress to reach a deal, but Roberts added he still expects lawmakers to pass a national labeling standard before Vermont's deadline.

“I'm not going to wait around and let the Vermont label happen,” he said. “I'm just not going to do that. So we'll have a vote, one way or the other, and we'll see what the outcome is.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at cwooten@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com