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US-certified ‘GMO free’ on the way, for a price

Adam Allington May 14, 2015
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Chipotle made headlines last month for its decision to remove genetically modified ingredients from the food at its 1,800 stores.

Now, the Associated Press reports that the United States Department of Agriculture plans to start issuing its own certification for foods that are “GMO free.” There are currently no government labels that certify a food as GMO-free, nothing akin to Department of Agriculture’s “certified organic” label.

But, in a letter obtained by the AP, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack describes a plan to roll out a voluntary “GMO Free” distinction that  companies can pay to get; a government certification that could be a marketing advantage. The label was requested by a large food company. 

Brian Yarbrough is a consumer research analyst with Edward Jones.

“The natural organic food industry is exploding with growth and the regular food industry is just struggling,” Yarbrough says. “If you are just a core center-of-the-aisle, a Kraft Food or a Kellogg’s, you can go back and look at the results, growth is hard to come by.”

Yarbrough says it’s too soon to tell if “GMO free” will achieve the same market appeal that organic has. 

But consumer groups pushing for GMO disclosure aren’t thrilled

“We think this is an outrageous move,” Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, says. The group supports laws requiring companies to disclose all GMO ingredients.

Making it easier for consumers to find GMO-free food is a good thing, Paul says, but “not if it’s going to cause the manufacturers of those products to have to charge consumers more because they had to pay for that certification.”

Food companies oppose mandatory disclosure of GMOs, citing scientific consensus that GMO food is safe.

The Department of Agriculture has not said when it will start issuing the labels.

There are possible ways to check your food labels though. KQED’s Mike Kahn breaks down how to read Price Look-up Codes (PLUs) to look for conventional, organic and GMO produce. 

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