U.S. ag secretary calls for mandatory GMO label

(Lisa Guenther photo)

Legislation to avoid a patchwork of state laws on labeling of genetically modified (GMO) foods should make such labels mandatory, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told farmers in New Orleans Friday.

Vilsack’s remarks at the Commodity Classic, a U.S. farmers’ trade show and multi-group convention, come as the U.S. Senate agriculture committee sends its proposal for a voluntary national labeling scheme to the full Senate.

Given Vermont’s plans for a GMO label law by this summer, federal legislation has to come quickly to avoid “the chaos that could ensue if we have 50 different states developing their own labeling requirements,” he said.

The chairman’s mark — a first draft of legislation introduced at a committee by its chairman, in this case Republican Sen. Pat Roberts — passed the agriculture committee 14-6 last Tuesday.

“It is clear that what we’re facing today is not a safety or health issue. It is a market issue,” Roberts said in a release. “This is really a conversation about a few states dictating to every state the way food moves from farmers to consumers in the value chain.”

The chairman’s mark, he said, “puts forward policies that will help consumers not only find information, but also demand information from manufacturers… It sets national uniformity, based on science, for labeling food or seeds that are genetically engineered.

“This allows the value chain from farmer-to-processor-to-shipper-to-retailer-to-consumer to continue as the free market intended.”

However, where Roberts’ bill lays out a standard for voluntary disclosure of such information, Vilsack said Friday he wants to see a mandatory system.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the agriculture committee’s ranking Democrat, agreed, saying last Tuesday that “for a solution, which includes a 50-state pre-emption, to receive the broad support necessary to pass the Senate, it must contain a pathway to a national system of mandatory disclosure.”

A voluntary program, she said, “is not enough to meet consumer demand.”

On the topic of what form such a label should take, Vilsack said he would prefer a “smart” label — “an opportunity to be able to take a smartphone and be able to click it on a QR code or a bar code and get information about a product.”

Such a label, he emphasized, should also never convey the wrong impression about the safety of the food Americans consume. — AGCanada.com Network

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