General Mills today (18 March) announced plans to label products containing genetically modified ingredients across the US.
The Cheerios owner said it would the labels would use terminology laid down under regulations set to come into force in the state of Vermont in July.
General Mills’ move comes two days after the US Senate blocked a federal bill calling for the nationwide voluntary labelling of GMO ingredients. The bill would have superseded state legislation. Supporters of the bill, which includes much of the US food sector, argue state-by-state labels will drive up costs for consumers and lead to confusion among shoppers.
The bill aimed to negate legislation requiring GMO labelling set to come into force in Vermont from 1 July. Connecticut and Maine have also passed legislation that would mandate GMO labelling on food products but with a so-called trigger clause that means the regulations would only come into force if it is backed by a total of 31 states.
Jeff Harmening, the chief operating officer of General Mills’ US retail business, revealed today he was “disappointed that a national solution has still not been reached” but said the company had to act.
“As the discussions continue in Washington, one thing is very clear: Vermont state law requires us to start labelling certain grocery store food packages that contain GMO ingredients or face significant fines. We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers and we simply will not do that. The result – consumers all over the US will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favourite General Mills products,” Harmening said.
The General Mills executive said the Betty Crocker owner still wanted to see a national measure introduced, given “the distinct possibility” other US states will introduce different labelling requirements.
Harmening insisted the use of genetic modification was safe but acknowledged some consumers were keen to know which products contained the ingredients. “All sides of this debate, 20 years of research, and every major health and safety agency in the world agree that GMOs are not a health or safety concern. At the same time, we know that some consumers are interested in knowing which products contain GMO ingredients,” he said. “We have added a simple search tool on our website, found at Ask.GeneralMills.com, to provide GMO ingredient information for hundreds of our US products, along with reference information.”
General Mills, meanwhile, is looking to grow its organic foods business, which includes brands like Annie’s. Earlier this month, General Mills said it believes it will reach a target of doubling its organic acreage in 2019, a year earlier than the company had originally estimated. General Mills also believes it will hit US$1bn in net sales from natural and organic products by 2019.