GMO Label Discussion Shifts

Label System Could Turn to Mandatory Disclosure Through Websites, Apps

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said in speeches last week that the Senate should adopt a system under which food companies would have to post the information about genetically modified foods on "smart labels," QR codes, toll-free phone numbers or websites. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer file photo)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Senate Agriculture Committee leaders appear to be moving toward modifying a bill that would ban state laws mandating the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients, but require food companies to post information about genetically modified ingredients on websites or "smart label" systems rather than on packages, two lobbyists with a knowledge of the situation have indicated to DTN in recent days.

The lobbyists referred to this system as "mandatory disclosure," rather than "mandatory labeling."

The Senate Agriculture Committee last week approved a bill written by Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that would ban state labeling laws such as the Vermont one scheduled to take effect on July 1. Roberts' bill would establish a voluntary federal labeling system, but Democratic senators say that bill is not strong enough to pass on the Senate floor.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said in speeches on Friday and Monday that the Senate should adopt a system under which food companies would have to post the information about genetically modified foods on "smart labels," QR codes, toll-free phone numbers or websites.

One lobbyist said that journalists have been referring to Vilsack's approach as implying that "he is in favor of strict mandatory GMO labeling, which is not an accurate depiction of the secretary's position."

Vilsack has not used the term "mandatory disclosure," but it appears that the food companies lobbying against mandatory labeling are more comfortable with that term.

"There will be lots of talk that disclosure is not labeling," one lobbyist said.

There is a "growing sense of urgency," another lobbyist said. A food company executive also told DTN recently that companies need to know before July 1 whether the Vermont law will take effect, because food must labeled and shipped weeks before that date.

Both lobbyists said it appears the Senate will try to act on the measure before the Easter recess that begins March 18. The House will be in session March 21 to 23 and could act on the measure if the Senate passes it, one lobbyist noted.

Vilsack has said that President Barack Obama would sign such a bill.

(CC/AG)

Jerry Hagstrom