First there was the leaked GMA discussion document; now the industry’s biggest players have put their cards on the table via the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food , which is seeking federal legislation to create an FDA-administered voluntary program to regulate food labels claiming the presence, or absence, of GMOs.
The coalition , which brings together almost 30 industry associations/NGOs including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Restaurant Association and the National Confectioners Association, is an “unprecedented” example of groups across the supply chain joining forces to address the regulatory minefield surrounding GMO labeling, spokeswoman Claire Parker told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We want to eliminate the confusion and uncertainty of a 50 state patchwork of GMO safety and labeling laws and we look forward to going forward with one voice. A coalition on this scale is unprecedented.”
Asked whether we are likely to see a bill mirroring the coalition's goals introduced to the House and/or Senate shortly, she said: “We are actively engaged with members of Congress.”
She would not comment on recent claims by POLITICO that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) had been approached to introduce such a bill.
GMA: US food safety and labeling laws should not be set by political campaigns or state and local legislatures, but by the FDA
Among other things, the coalition wants to see regulations allowing manufacturers to make voluntary claims about the absence or presence of GMOs under a new FDA-regulated process. However, mandatory GMO labels would only be required where the FDA thinks they are needed on safety grounds.
The coalition also wants the FDA to define the term ‘natural’ for use on food and beverage labels as civil litigation over this issue continues to clog up the court system.
GMA president Pam Bailey said: “Foods made with GMOs are safe and have a number of important benefits for people and our planet. Our nation’s food safety and labeling laws should not be set by political campaigns or state and local legislatures, but by the FDA.”
CFS: Voluntary labeling standard will perpetuate consumer confusion
Crucially, the proposed federal regulations would pre-empt any state-led initiatives to mandate GMO labeling, and have outraged groups such as the Environmental Working Group, which has pledged to "make sure that the public’s right to know is protected and that this bill if introduced, is dead on arrival.”
The Center for Food Safety also blasted the GMA for “renewing its efforts to block states from mandating the labeling of genetically engineered foods”.
Executive director Andrew Kimbrell added: “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.”
Instead of backing federal bills pushing for mandatory GMO labeling, the food industry is promoting a “voluntary labeling standard that perpetuates consumer confusion in the market place”, he claimed.
The Organic Consumers Association was similarly unimpressed, asserting that: "Fearful that states like Vermont, Oregon, Colorado and others will pass mandatory GMO legislation, similar to laws passed last year in Connecticut and Maine, Big Food wants to cut a deal with Congress and the FDA."
Just Label It executive director Scott Faber added:“Voluntary labeling of genetically engineered ingredients is a failed system and the food industry’s proposal is just more of the same. The solution to consumer confusion is to provide people with more information, not less."
Dr Acheson: Having 50 different ways of regulating GMOs is both impractical and very costly
However, the idea of federal solution for voluntary labeling also has some support, with former FDA associate commissioner of foods Dr David Acheson - who now heads up consultancy The Acheson Group - recently telling FoodNavigator-USA that: “Having 50 different ways of regulating GMOs is both impractical and very costly to food companies and thus to consumers – so having one federal program is a good idea.
”I agree that labeling should be required for safety, but recognize that no food company would put out a GMO food that required such a label.”
But he added: “I think trying to get ‘Natural’ defined is a long shot and FDA has already pushed back on taking that one on [click here ] so that may be an unrealistic part of this, but is essentially in addition to the GMO proposal which could stand alone without the ‘Natural’ claim component.”
GMO labeling - the battle lines
Currently, federal law does not require the labeling of genetically engineered foods as the FDA has consistently argued that they do not differ from other foods "in any meaningful or material way" or present any different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding methods.
Many large food companies, meanwhile, oppose mandatory labeling because they believe it would reinforce an erroneous perception that there is something wrong with GM crops.
They also argue that if the tide turns against agricultural biotechnology, it won’t be a victory for consumers - that there is no evidence that the global food supply would be safer or more sustainable without genetically engineered crops (as a recent report from GMO Inside alleged).
However, supporters of GMO labeling argue that consumers have a right to know what they are eating.
See below a full list of coalition members:
1. AACC International/ American Phytopathological Society
2. American Bakers Association
3. American Beverage Association
4. American Farm Bureau Federation
5. American Feed Industry Association
6. American Frozen Food Institute
7. American Seed Trade Association
8. American Soybean Association
9. American Sugarbeet Growers Association
10. Biotechnology Industry Organization
11. Corn Refiners Association
12. Council for Responsible Nutrition
13. Flavor & Extract Manufacturers Association
14. Global Cold Chain Alliance
15. Grocery Manufacturers Association
16. International Dairy Foods Association
17. National Association of Manufacturers
18. National Association of Wheat Growers
19. National Confectioners Association
20. National Corn Growers Association
21. National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
22. National Grain & Feed Association
23. National Fisheries Institute
24. National Oilseed Processors Association
25. National Restaurant Association
26. National Turkey Federation
27. North American Millers Association
28. Snack Food Association
29. U.S. Beet Sugar Association