Kellogg's, Mars to start labeling GMOs amid Senate deadlock

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 21, 2016 - The Kellogg Co. has joined Mars Inc. and General Mills Inc. in announcing plans to start complying with Vermont's first-in-the-nation GMO labeling requirements that take effect in July. 

In a statement provided to Agri-Pulse late Monday afternoon, Kellogg North America President Paul Norman said that barring congressional action on the labeling issue some of the company's labels would start carrying the words “Produced with Genetic Engineering” as soon as mid-April.  The labels will appear nationwide, not just in Vermont, “because a special label for Vermont would be costly for us and our consumers,” Norman said. 

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A Mars policy statement that a company spokesman said was posted on Friday, the same day as a similar announcement from General Mills Inc., said the candy maker planned to start labeling for GMOs because of the Vermont law but provided no details.

Spokespersons for Mars and Kellogg said they had no plans to reformulate products to avoid GMO ingredients. General Mills didn't respond to a question about its plans. 

 The Senate broke for a two-week recess last Thursday unable to resolve a dispute over legislation that would block states from imposing biotech labeling requirements.  Campbell Soup announced in January that it would start labeling products with biotech ingredients. 

The labeling announcements could increase pressure on the Senate to reach an agreement on national disclosure standards. 

The industry-backed Coalition for Safe Affordable Food issued a statement saying that the company decisions represent “urgent cries for for the Senate to act.  As we've said all along, if the Senate failed to act, consumers, farmers and companies would pay the price.  Unfortunately, it's happening as a law established by a state with 600,000 people is dictating the labeling for 300 million people.”

Kellogg is based in Battle Creek, Mich., home state of the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow. Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has been unable to reach agreement with her on disclosure requirements that would satisfy enough Democrats to clear the way for passage of a preemption bill. A Roberts spokeswoman issued a statement last week urging farmers to put pressure on Stabenow to settle the issue. 

Norman said Kellogg continues "to strongly urge Congress to pass a uniform, federal solution for the labeling of GMOs to avoid a confusing patchwork of state-by-state rules.

Until a federal solution is reached, and in order to comply with Vermont's labeling law, some of our product labels nationwide will include the words ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering' beginning in mid-to-late April."

The Mars statement doesn't mention the Senate debate. The company said it was “committed to being transparent with our consumers so they can understand what's in the products they love.”

The announcement goes on to say that to comply with the Vermont law, “Mars is introducing clear, on-pack labeling on our products that contain GM ingredients nationwide.”

Mars also affirms the safety of genetically engineered ingredients, saying that biotech food “has been studied extensively and judged safe by a broad range of regulatory agencies, scientists, health professionals, and other experts around the world.”

Advocates of mandatory on-package labeling are applauding the announcements. 

Commenting on the Mars plan earlier Monday, Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group said it was “yet another step forward in what has been a long march towards greater transparency.”

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“We are confident that by labeling genetically engineered ingredients, Mars, General Mills, Campbell's and other companies will maintain the trust of Americans who want the right to know whether their food contains GMOs. As more companies take this step, we hope Congress will see the benefit of crafting a national GMO labeling solution that works for both industry and consumers.”

(Updated March 22.)

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