While some companies are actively fighting against GMO labels on their food, at least, one major cereal maker is taking the lead in the other direction. General Mills – maker of such breakfast staples as Cheerios – says it will begin labeling its products that contain genetically modified ingredients.
Ostensibly, GM is doing this to comply with a new Vermont law about to go into effect. But, instead of just complying in Vermont, General Mills plans to take the information nationwide.
The move is practical – not ideological – for the company. With popular product lines in dry goods, soups and dairy products, it’s untenable for the company to have separate labels state to state.
Despite not necessarily being aligned with the GMO labeling agendas of many disparate groups, General Mills, in taking this step, is forging new ground, becoming a leader that others will look to. Instead of leaning away from this role, GM is stepping into leadership, actively campaigning for what the company calls a national solution to the GMO labeling debate.
On one side you have the food industry, who doesn’t want and can’t really predict the consequences of forced labeling. Consumer knowledge of GMOs is so incomplete and so often misguided or misinformed that giving this information could definitively hurt sales. It would also force most companies to completely change its labels and branding across multiple product lines, a costly process some simply want to avoid outright. Still, the companies don’t want to be seen as openly defiant, so they are calling for “voluntary labeling,” leaving it up to the brand managers to decide. They have lobbied heavily for this “right.”
On the opposite side of the debate is an ungainly congregation consisting of folks who Just Want To Know, as well as anti-GMO and Only Organic teetotalers. This bloc ranges from those who are just curious and want to know more to those who believe GMOs cause a host of horrific diseases.
Until now it was the second group in relative disarray. They couldn’t find a single voice with which to lobby for their side. Now, though, with GM’s defection from the “voluntary means no” camp, all bets are off. The folks on the other side will have some decisions to make. Decisions that will definitely have far-reaching PR consequences.