Food Industry Coalition Leads Voluntary GMO Labeling Push

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other industry groups have banded together amid the heated debate over labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms. Their proposal: a voluntary solution at the federal level.

With the fight over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods continuing to mount, major food-industry groups are joining forces to tackle the issue.

The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food—a new group headed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and comprising 29 association members from across the broad food production and biotechnology spectrum—was launched Thursday with the goal of pushing a voluntary federal solution for GMO labeling.

We’ve all been talking about this for some time. What we’ve determined is now is the time for us to stand together.

“We’ve all been talking about this for some time. What we’ve determined is now is the time for us to stand together,” GMA President and CEO Pamela Bailey said Thursday during a media call covered by Politico.

It’s the latest move for GMA, which created a discussion draft last month proposing that the Food and Drug Administration increase oversight of the industry on GMO issues and implement a voluntary labeling program. It comes after the defeat of a ballot proposal in Washington state that would have required food labeling and after Connecticut and Maine passed laws on mandatory labeling that will take effect only when nearby states pass similar ones.

The new coalition’s goals for a federal standard include eliminating the confusion caused by differing state laws; advancing food safety by requiring FDA review of GMO-based products; creating voluntary standards for informing consumers of a product’s GMO content; and setting a consistent definition of the word “natural,” which has become a loaded term at the supermarket and is used inconsistently by manufacturers.

The coalition clearly favors using GMOs in the food supply, arguing that many health organizations have said that genetically modified food is safe and helps ensure lower costs for shoppers.

“A federal solution on GMO labeling will bolster consumer confidence in the safety of American food by reaffirming the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) role as the nation’s foremost authority on the use and labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients,” Martin Barbre, president of the National Corn Growers Association, a coalition member, said in a statement.

Opponents Push Federal Standard, Too

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), an advocacy group on the other side of the issue, was critical of the new coalition’s goals, suggesting that the industry’s involvement was only due to the inevitability of labeling.

“They know that the food movement’s power is growing and that labeling is not a matter of if but when,” CFS Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell said in a statement. “These companies have failed to win over consumers who overwhelmingly support the mandatory labeling of GMOs, and now they’re trying to steal away consumer choice in Congress.”

The organization has been pushing a national standard of its own, albeit with one major difference: Last month, CFS, along with more than 200 organizations and businesses, sent a letter to President Obama requesting a mandatory GMO labeling standard at the federal level. The signatories—which included groups such as the Organic Consumers Association, the Truth in Labeling Coalition, and the National Cooperative Grocers Association, as well as popular brands such as Ben & Jerry’s—stated that they supported state efforts to approve mandatory labeling but that Obama should stick to his 2007 campaign pledge to require such labeling.

“It’s been more than a decade since FDA approved voluntary GE [genetically engineered] labeling, and consumers are more confused than ever,” the letter stated [PDF]. “Allowing responsible companies to voluntarily disclose the presence of GE ingredients is simply not enough.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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