(Reuters) - Backers of mandatory labeling for genetically modified foods on Wednesday launched a campaign aimed at turning back food company lobbying against labeling, and the first target is PepsiCo.
The move comes as U.S. lawmakers are eyeing federal legislation that would nullify mandatory state labeling laws, such as one that takes effect next year in Vermont, and proposed in other states.
PepsiCo is one of many food and agricultural companies that signed on to a letter delivered Tuesday to members of Congress supporting passage of the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015” that would take labeling power away from states.
The effort to target PepsiCo is being pushed by Just Label It, a consortium representing more than 700 corporations and non-profit groups, including organic industry interests. The group said it will target several companies but is starting with PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats brand.
The group plans an onslaught of social media and paid advertising designed to generate consumer pressure on the company to abandon anti-labeling efforts.
Pepsi-Co is a top target because it has contributed at least $8.8 million to anti-labeling campaigns, and promotes its Quaker Oats products as healthy, Just Label It Chairman Gary Hirshberg said.
PepsiCo spokesman Jay Cooney declined to comment.
The debate over labeling of genetically modified organisms has heated up over the last year, and several food-related companies have removed GMO ingredients from their products in the face of consumer demand. On Monday, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. became the first major U.S. restaurant chain to make that switch.
On Tuesday, a federal judge in Vermont denied a preliminary injunction request sought by labeling opponents to block that state’s new law.
Opponents say mandatory labeling would spell higher prices for consumers, and would confuse them without cause as GMOs are well regulated and are no less safe or nutritious than foods made with non-GMO ingredients.
Labeling supporters say consumers have a right to know if GMOs are in their food. They cite a lack of scientific consensus on safety and concerns about the herbicide glyphosate, which has been classified by a World Health Organization research unit as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is widely used on genetically modified crops, and residues of the pesticide have been detected in foods.
“If you care about the issue you just can’t sit on the sidelines,” said Hirshberg, who is also co-founder of the organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farm.
Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Michael Perry