Federal GMO labeling rules essential to avoid 'confusion and uncertainty of 50 state patchwork', says Coalition for Safe Affordable Food

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gmo labeling Mandatory gmo labeling Genetically modified organism Food Genetically modified food

Coalition for Safe Affordable Food: The nation’s food safety and labeling laws should not be set by political campaigns or state and local legislatures, but by the FDA
Coalition for Safe Affordable Food: The nation’s food safety and labeling laws should not be set by political campaigns or state and local legislatures, but by the FDA
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.

coalition over GMO labeling logo
The coalition's proposed federal regulations would pre-empt any state-led initiatives to mandate GMO labeling, and have outraged groups in favor of mandatory GMO labeling such as the Environmental Working Group

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.”

coalition over GMO labeling charts
Coalition: 'GM crops are more plentiful, better for the environment and keep production costs down for farmers, ultimately lowering costs for consumers across the country.'

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


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Posted by Sandra,

This is just another way to get around GMO Labeling. These organizations aren't interested in safe food or eliminating "confusion". I'm not confused, are you? They are only interested in protecting their bottom line. A law that overrides state law and provides for voluntary labeling of GE foods is just giving them permission to NOT label. The only manufacturers who will label are those who are doing it now - voluntarily - because they understand our concern. I do not buy any food that is not labeled non-GMO or organic (or both) and I will continue to do so if the FDA says labeling is voluntary. So, forgive me if I'm "confused" but how will voluntary labeling change anything. Pure rhetoric!

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GMA Food Fight

Posted by Jeff Nedelman,

Don't you just love it. Scott Faber, who used to lobby for GMA, is now biting the hand that once fed him. I guess we all make mistakes.

Big Food has beentrying to get federal preemption since Prop 65 passed in 1986. California has led the way in blocking it. Will it work tis time? I don't think so.

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What are they hiding?

Posted by Doug,

If GMOs are safe, then why haven't the seed companies offered seeds to researchers who have no financial ties to Big Ag and allow them unrestricted publication of the results.

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