Proponents of GMO transparency are finding unlikely allies in the companies that mandatory labeling would most impact.
Nearly two-thirds of retailers (64.1%) and 71.1% of manufacturers polled for SN’s 10th annual survey of Center Store performance advocate measures that would require foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such.
The findings come as Whole Foods Market works toward full GMO transparency; Target, Giant Eagle and more than 50 other chains vow not to sell GM salmon; and Ben & Jerry’s moves to phase out GM ingredients from its ice cream.
More could join their ranks as one-third of retailers report considering adopting a disclosure directive à la Whole Foods. The Austin, Texas-based chain is requiring its suppliers to label products with GM ingredients within five years. But mandatory labeling legislation could precede its 2018 deadline.
Last week, Connecticut became the first state to commit to mandatory labeling, on the condition that other states take the lead.
To help mitigate first-mover risk, the law won’t take effect until four other states — including one that borders Connecticut — enact similar measures. In addition, any combination of Northeastern states with a combined population of at least 20 million must mandate GMO labeling.
“This bill strikes an important balance by ensuring the consumers’ right to know what is in their food while shielding our small businesses from liability that could leave them at a competitive disadvantage,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, in a statement.
Two dozen other states are debating bills that would mandate GMO disclosure. But even if directives are enacted, the constitutionality of state laws will likely be challenged. A recently proposed amendment to the Farm Bill would have protected states from these lawsuits but it was rejected.
Meanwhile, a federal bill that would require GMO disclosure nationwide is gaining support from grocery suppliers who favor a single standard over a fragmented approach, with many viewing the former as the lesser of two evils. The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act would allow the Food and Drug Administration to classify GM foods that aren’t properly labeled, as “misbranded.”
“We would like to see the federal government create a national standard versus all the states writing unique laws,” one manufacturer told SN.
Grocery suppliers are likewise contemplating what GMO transparency would mean for their business.
A small number — just 6.5% — would avoid labeling by eliminating GM ingredients from their products, while 61.3% would leave their product formulations as is, and disclose which products contain GMOs.
Sixteen percent said that in the event of a labeling mandate they would have the GMO status of their existing products certified, or switch to organic. (Organic products cannot contain GM ingredients). The same number (16.1%) said a labeling directive wouldn’t change things since their products are already organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified.