USDA Secretary Tom Vilasck Discusses GMO Labeling

As the Senate considers GMO labeling legislation for food products, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilasck addressed the issue Friday at the Commodity Classic convention in New Orleans.

Mike McGinnis reported yesterday at Agriculture Online that, “In a reporters briefing Friday, at the Commodity Classic, Secretary Vilsack says that he is proposing mandatory labeling because in order to get anything done, 60 votes are needed in the U.S. Senate. ‘That’s the key,’ Vilsack says. ‘If you don’t get this requirement, then you create a situation where every company could decide for itself to do something, which could create confusion. Plus, you don’t want state laws that could potentially be at odds.’

“Vilsack wants to give the food industry some time to create a label. ‘You give the food industry some time to figure out how flexible the label needs to be, whether it’s a toll-free number for consumers, a website, a smart label, or something else. And then you use that time to educate people that this label is going to be available, and this is an opportunity for them to know about the food that they are buying.’

“Secretary Vilsack believes that the Senate would pass mandatory labeling if it was packaged this way. ‘I think the House will give it great consideration and the president will sign it,’ Vilsack says.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “On biotech labeling, Vilsack said he’s worried that ‘chaos ensues’ if Congress doesn’t act on biotech labeling legislation now in the Senate. His main goal is to ensure a bill gets 60 votes in the Senate that conveys consumers’ right to know what’s in their food without giving the wrong impression about the safety of biotechnology. He said food costs would rise and consumers could be unnecessarily concerned about their food if every state is allowed to create a different labeling scheme for foods with ingredients from biotech crops.

“‘I’m here today to say unequivocally they are safe to consume,’ he said. ‘There is no risk associated with them, and we need to make that clear to the consuming public.’

“Beyond generating fears among consumers, farmers and the food industry should be proud of the technology, reflecting the innovation of the country. ‘It’s something that’s going to allow producers to be more productive, but to do so with less inputs. It’s going to allow the producer to be an even better environmental steward,’ Vilsack said. Recalling a conversation he had with a biotech company executive, he said, ‘You need to aggressively market this not only to producers, but also to consumers. We need to be extraordinarily proud of American agriculture.'”

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