Mars joins the GMO labeling push ahead of Vermont law

The maker of M&Ms and Snickers will include labels notifying customers when products contain GMOs to comply with a Vermont law set to go into effect this July. Mars has said that it believes genetically modified ingredients are safe. 

Dado Ruvic/Reuters/Illustration/File
Snickers bars are seen in this picture illustration taken February 23, 2016.

Your Snickers bar might soon sport a new notice on the label.

Mars, Inc., which owns M&M's, Starbursts, and several other popular candy brands, is joining a growing number of large US food companies that will include labels notifying consumers about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on their products. General Mills and Campbell Soup Company joined the push earlier this year.

These companies will be flagging cereal, soup, candy, and other processed foods for GMO content in order to comply with a Vermont law that’s set to go into effect in July. That law will require products that have ingredients with genetically-modified content to display a notice on their labels, or on the store shelves where they are displayed.

In early March the Senate blocked a Republican-led bill to override individual states’ laws on GMO labeling. Supporters of the bill believed that individual state laws would create an uneven network of laws and an undue burden for companies seeking to meet those regulatory requirements.

Mars, which also has a large pet food division, has committed to removing artificial colors from all of the human food products that it sells. Its tone on GMOs, however, is different.  

“We firmly believe GM ingredients are safe,” the company said in a statement on its website. “Food developed through biotechnology has been studied extensively and judged safe by a broad range of regulatory agencies, scientists, health professionals, and other experts around the world,” Mars reiterated that the new labeling is in order to comply with the Vermont law.

Campbell's echoed similar sentiments when it introduced its own labeling measures in January. The company does not believe that GMOs are harmful and supports a national labeling standard for GMOs. “[We propose] that the federal government provide a national standard for non-GMO claims made on food packaging,” Campbell’s President and CEO Denise Morrison wrote at the time.

Campbell's also argued that complying with many different state labeling laws would be impractical and costly, for both consumers and the companies themselves. 

All told, major food producers including Pepsico, Inc., Coca-Cola North America, and the Kraft Food Group have spent more than $100 million since 2012 in attempts to block GMO labeling, in part out of fears that such labels will deter consumers. Th

According to the advocacy group Non-GMO Project, it takes an average of four to six months for a product to be verified as containing no GMOs, but once that certification is reached, it can have tremendous economic benefits. Within the natural products industry, products that have a non-GMO label represent a total of $11 billion in annual sales across more than 27,000 products.

Food companies, biotechnology firms, and academic scientists have been adamant about the safety of GMO use, but the American public remains cautious about how GMOs impact their food. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, about 57 percent of Americans believe that genetically modified foods are generally unsafe to eat.

However, the FDA informs the public that genetically modified,or “genetically engineered” foods are as safe to eat as foods that have not been engineered, and that such foods must meet the same legal standards as all others.

Several crops are already grown from genetically engineered seeds, including corn, cotton, and soybeans. Ninety-three percent of all soybeans and 88 percent of all corn planted in 2012 came from genetically modified seeds, according to the FDA.

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