Vilsack: Mandatory GMO labeling needed to pass bill in Senate
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Commodity Classic convention here today that the federal labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients needs to be mandatory, and later told reporters that mandatory is necessary to get the 60 votes in the Senate needed to end debate and pass the bill.
“We need to get this done, it needs to be flexible, it needs to be mandatory,” Vilsack told the thousands of corn, wheat, soybean and sorghum growers attending the convention here.
He said it is important to pass the bill before a Vermont mandatory labeling law is scheduled to go into effect in July.
But the problem is not only that differing labels from state to state would cause chaos in the marketplace, Vilsack said. He also said that individual companies establishing their own labeling programs should be avoided.
The Campbell Soup Company has already announced it intends to label products for genetic modification and has called for federal standards for that labeling.
Vilsack said he believes the House of Representatives would agree to the bill the Senate passes and that President Barack Obama would sign it.
Vilsack said that he personally prefers a smart label that consumers could “click” to on their smartphones. He did not discuss on-package labeling, which some consumer and organic industry have said is vital.
“I think you give industry some time to create the label, you give industry some time to figure out whether it is an 800 number, smart label, website, you use that time to educate people that it will be available,” Vilsack said.
The bill written by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that has been approved by the committee on a vote of 14 to 6 would ban state labels and establish federal voluntary labeling through the Agriculture Department.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and other Democrats have introduced a bill that would also ban state labels, but has a system for mandatory labeling on packages.
Industry sources here said finalization of a bill appears to be coming down to whether mandatory labeling will be on the package or through some other system.
Vilsack also said that the food industry needs to engage in an aggressive campaign to allay consumer concerns about the safety of biotechnology.
He said he has told seed company executives they should have mounted a consumer campaign when genetically modified seed was first introduced and that as they introduce new biotech products they need to “aggressively market not only to producers but consumers.”
Farmers, he said, need to able to tell consumers that “there is nothing to hide here. There is everything to be proud of.”
–The Hagstrom Report