On Friday, General Mills announced that it will “soon” start labeling its products that contain genetically modified organism (GMO) ingredients nationwide. With the rationale that it is impractical to label its products for just one state, the company plans to disclose GMO ingredients according to the law set to go into effect in Vermont on July 1.
Federal legislation regarding GMO labeling has stalled in Congress. On Wednesday, the US Senate blocked a bill that would nullify state and local efforts to require GMO labeling when a procedural vote failed to reach the necessary 60 votes to advance the bill in the Senate, with 49 yes votes and 48 no votes.
General Mills did not declare its support for mandatory labeling (as Campbell Soup did in January). Rather, the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer for US Retail Jeff Harmening wrote in the announcement that he has “been eagerly awaiting a resolution of the GMO labeling debate in Washington and am disappointed that a national solution has still not been reached.”
He added, “We will continue advocating for a national solution to GMO communications to consumers, but on behalf of all the passionate food makers here at General Mills, we look forward to moving beyond this divisive topic and getting back to creating great food that people love.”
The call is consistent with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)’s advocacy for national requirements rather than a “costly patchwork of state labeling laws.” In a statement, the organization called General Mills’ announcement “the latest example of how Vermont's looming labeling mandate is a serious problem for businesses. Food companies are being forced to make decisions on how to comply and having to spend millions of dollars. One small state's law is setting labeling standards for consumers across the country.”
Harmening was sure to stress that GMOs are not a health and safety concern, but noted that for consumers who prefer products without GMO ingredients, General Mills' organic brands such as Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen and LÄRABAR are non-GMO. General Mills is the third largest producer of natural and organic foods in the US, and recently announced that it will double the organic acreage from which it sources its ingredients to 250,000 acres by 2019.
In addition to the product labeling, General Mills added a search tool to Ask.GeneralMills.com to provide GMO ingredient information for hundreds of its US products. While original Cheerios have been GMO-free for some time, some or most of the ingredients in most of the other varieties of Cheerios are from plants grown using genetically engineered seeds. Examples of other General Mills products that use genetically engineered ingredients include Cocoa Puffs, Franken Berry, Hamburger Helper, Kix, some varieties of Nature Valley bars, and some Pillsbury products.
Last year, General Mills committed to removing artificial flavors and colors from the rest of its cereals in response to consumers’ changing preferences.