Vermont's GMO labeling law will have ripple effect on US food industry

by Bob Sims
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ROCKVILLE, Md. – The talk surrounding GMOs in packaged foods had never really led to any action toward regulation, until now. A law in Vermont has already impacted the labeling process for at least one major food company.

General Mills announced its intentions last week to begin GMO labeling its products. The company made headlines in 2014 as the first major brand of packaged foods in the country to market itself as non-GMO by removing GMOs from its original Cheerios cereal. The Maryland-based market research publisher Packaged Facts notes that this recent announcement by General Mills to GMO label carries different connotations for the company and the US food industry overall.

Vermont became the first state to require GMO labeling in 2014. The state intended for the law to go into effect this year after surviving the usual legal challenges from the food industry. Connecticut and Maine have passed laws mandating GMO labeling, but they cannot be implemented until neighboring states enact similar laws.

The number of US consumers concerned with GMOs in their food continues to grow, even when the consumer doesn’t understand what they are. In a February 2016 survey, Packaged Facts found that 26 percent of US adults say non-GMO labeling is an important factor when choosing foods to purchase.

Although the US food industry has spent millions of dollars fighting the mandatory labeling of GMO foods, consumers want transparency regarding their food’s ingredients, especially the millennial generation. Packaged Facts believes General Mills’ decision to embrace, rather than fight, the requirement is strategy to endear the brand to younger consumers and expects other companies will follow General Mills’ lead.

"Manufacturers may be in the driver's seat when it comes to information on labels," says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. "But when it comes to the Millennial-driven demands for fuller information on product sourcing, processing, ingredients, and packaging, consumers are increasingly calling the shots. Manufacturers who don't provide the desired transparency – or the right answers – will lose out to competitors who do."

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