Kraft Foods Group Inc. and other packaged-food giants are facing a prospect they’ve dreaded for years: a state law requiring them to label products containing genetically modified organisms.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, has vowed to sign a GMO labeling bill on May 8, saying on Twitter that residents deserve to know what’s in their food. The legislation will require certain products sold in the state to note that they "may be partially produced with genetic engineering."
The move would make Vermont the first state to require the labeling, following failed attempts to pass legislation in California and Washington. And while Vermont’s population is small -- at about 627,000, it has fewer people than the east side of Manhattan -- the law could prompt other states to follow suit. At least 13 states have bills pending as the issue gains momentum, fueled in part by social media.
"This is a big deal for the industry," Nicholas Fereday, an analyst at Rabobank International in New York, said in a note this week. "The issue has started to move center-stage and will continue to gain momentum and prominence."
The law, which would take effect in July 2016, could ripple through neighboring states such as Connecticut and Maine. They have passed GMO labeling laws that are triggered when other states jump first.
Kraft, Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co. are among the food makers that have lobbied against stalled GMO labeling legislation in California, the most populous state. They argue that labeling laws could increase food manufacturing and retail costs for processors and grocers. The Washington Research Council, a Seattle-based group that opposed the labeling bill in that state, estimated it would add as much as $520 to the annual food bill for a family of four.
GMO labeling laws also would create a false perception that the foods are unhealthy, despite a lack of scientific evidence, Hillshire Brands Co. Chief Executive Officer Sean Connolly said today in an interview. If the labeling is going to be required, he would prefer the regulations come from the federal government.
"If you put yourself in the shoes of a manufacturer, it’s not a practical concept," said Connolly, whose company sells Jimmy Dean sausages and Gallo Salame. "You can’t have customized labels state by state. That would dramatically drive up the cost to consumers even higher, which is certainly not in their best interest when there’s nothing wrong with the ingredients to begin with."
ConAgra Foods Inc., the maker of Reddi-wip whipped cream, Healthy Choice meals and Hunt’s canned tomatoes, also opposes state-level labeling.
"We support consistent and consumer-centric labeling of food based on facts, not politically motivated, costly and misguided schemes that may lead toward a 50-state patchwork of confusing GMO labeling policies," Teresa Paulsen, a spokeswoman for the Omaha, Nebraska-based company, said in an e-mail.