Just label It is throwing in the towel. The never-ending campaign by the organic industry’s top political players to force GMO labeling on the entire food industry says its time to move on. After a 63-30 vote late Friday for a national GMO labeling scheme that was opposed by Just Label It, Stonyfield Farm’s Gary Hirschberg, who chairs the organization, issued a statement taking credit for passage of the Senate compromise bill it had opposed to the bitter end. GMO-Labeling-Vermont_406x250“Millions of consumers and hundreds of advocacy organizations have successfully moved America into the 21st Century,” Hirschberg said. He said the fight for federally mandated labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) now shifts to USDA and the marketplace. “Companies should think twice before they remove GMO labels from their packages,” he said. The timing of the strategy shift by Just Label It is significant. It comes before both a concurrence vote in the House and before the Senate compromise bill has landed on President Obama’s desk. Last year, a bipartisan majority of the House voted to pre-empt the states or the issue, but made GMO labeling voluntary. Just Label It’s concession is the most significant development outside the Senate since June 27 when the broader Organic Trade Association with much hand wringing announced it was supporting the Senate compromise bill. Now, the U.S. House is going to have to sign on to the mandatory approach or subject the food industry to the chaos of every state having its own labeling policies. It’s predicted the mandate will pass easily.

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Meanwhile, back in Vermont The July 1 enactment of Vermont’s labeling law, which helped push federal legislators into action, has not turned out exactly as promised. Thousands of products have been taken down from grocery shelves, making Vermont look more like Venezuela with more empty space than food. Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the compromise bill would require GMO labeling on about 25,000 more grocery food products than are now covered by the Vermont law. Kansas Republican, Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote the bill with Stabenow. He called it “a well crafted compromise.” Assuming the bill does gain approval in the House and passes from Congress to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law, the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard will set into motion these actions:

  1. Thousands of products will be returned to grocery shelves in Vermont as the federal law pre-empts Vermont’s state law and food manufacturers come under the protection of the new federal law.
  2. The Grocery Manufacturers Association lawsuit against the State of Vermont’s law, which has been hung up in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, will likely be dismissed. “At this point we’re just exploring our legal options for any potential outcomes,” a GMA spokesman said.
  3. Two years will be put on the clock during which USDA will have to come up with the requirements and procedures for the bioengineered symbol that may be used on the label of food with genetically engineered ingredients.
  4. When fully enacted the bioengineered standard’s disclosure standards will be satisfied with QR codes, with small food makers being allowed to use a website address to meet the disclosure requirement.

The Secretary of Agriculture will have recall and audit authorities to bring about compliance with the new law. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)