General Mills to label GMOs in U.S. products

(Photo courtesy General Mills via Flickr)

Reuters — General Mills on Friday said it would begin putting labels on its products that contain genetically engineered ingredients, a move that comes days after U.S. senators failed to advance legislation aimed at blocking Vermont from requiring such labels on July 1.

U.S. consumer are calling for greater transparency around food production and sourcing, and many want mandatory labels on foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The decision from the seller of Cheerios cereal, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and Nature Valley Granola bars comes after high-profile companies such as Whole Foods Market, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Campbell Soup have bowed to consumer pressure by requiring GMO labels or abandoning use of GMOs.

“Vermont state law requires us to start labeling certain grocery store food packages that contain GMO ingredients or face significant fines,” Jeff Harmening, General Mills’ chief operating officer for U.S. retail, wrote Friday on the company’s blog.

“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.”

Thus, he said, its labels will include “words legislated by the state of Vermont” to confirm whether a given product has GMO ingredients. The company also added a search tool on its U.S. website for consumers to look up such information for each of its products.

Asked whether the labelling initiative will also extend to the company’s Canadian product lines, a company representative said Friday by email there is “different packaging for Canada.”

Another General Mills spokeswoman emphasized Friday the company’s move in no way suggests it’s backing away from its call for a national standard on GMO labeling.

“We have essentially run out of time,” spokeswoman Mary Lynn Carver told Reuters. “We have no other choice. Our supply system doesn’t work state-by-state.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a vocal foe of GMO labeling, on Friday called on the U.S. Senate to get back to work on the issue.

“One small state’s law is setting labeling standards for consumers across the country,” GMA said in a statement. “This announcement should give new urgency to the need for action on a national law when the Senate returns from its recess in April.”

The U.S. food industry has spent millions of dollars fighting mandatory GMO labelling efforts on the state and federal level. On Wednesday, a federal bill that would have nullified mandatory state and local GMO labelling laws failed to garner enough support to move forward.

That bill also would allow food makers to decide whether to tell consumers about GMO ingredients in their products.

Minneapolis-based General Mills also announced last week it would “accelerate” its previous plans to expand the organic acreage from which it sources ingredients. Its timeline now calls for 250,000 acres by 2019.

The company already bills itself as being among the top five organic ingredient buyers in North America’s packaged-food sector, as well as its second-largest buyer of organic fruits and vegetables.

Lisa Baertlein is a Reuters correspondent covering the U.S. food, grocery and restaurant sectors from Los Angeles. Includes files from Network staff.

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