U.S. food industry lobbying spikes amid GMO fight-report

NEW YORK, July 29 Tue Jul 29, 2014 3:57pm EDT

NEW YORK, July 29 (Reuters) - U.S. food companies spent almost as much lobbying Congress in the first quarter of 2014 as they did in the full year in 2013, a sign the industry may have intensified its fight against state labeling requirements for genetically engineered foods, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), along with companies such as PepsiCo Inc and Coca-Cola Co contributed to the $9 million in spending related to such lobbying efforts in the first quarter of 2014, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) report.

The group analyzed lobbying disclosure forms that cited labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as well as other policy issues.

That compared with $9.3 million spent on the issue in 2013, according to EWG, a Washington-based nonprofit that supports GMO labeling.

Supporters of GMO labeling spent $1.6 million in 2013 and roughly $400,000 in the first quarter of this year, the report said.

EWG noted that the burst of first-quarter spending on lobbying comes as GMO crop companies are increasing their own anti-labeling efforts.

The lobbying spending increase was partly designed to muster congressional support for a federal bill that was introduced in April and aims to nullify state efforts to require GMO labeling, Libby Foley, an EWG policy analyst, said in the report.

Michael Gruber, vice president of federal affairs for the GMA, which represents food and beverage makers, said the industry's first-quarter spending paid for lobbying on multiple issues, not just GMO labeling. The amounts are not itemized by issue in disclosure forms

"The food industry has a tremendous number of policy issues that it's dealing with right now," including compliance with a 2011 food safety modernization law as well as a farm bill passed earlier this year that trims food stamps for the poor and expands federal crop insurance, Gruber said.

There has been significant lobbying spending at the state level too. GMO labeling opponents spent $67.9 million to defeat recent ballot initiatives in California and Washington, the report said.

In May, Vermont became the first state to mandate GMO labeling. Connecticut and Maine have passed laws that would go into effect if other northeastern states approve similar legislation, the report said.

Oregon will consider a similar ballot initiative this fall and dozens of other state bills have been introduced.

GMOs were introduced to the public in the 1990s. They are ubiquitous in U.S. packaged food.

GMO crop developers and their backers say genetically modified crops are proven safe. But some international scientists say studies show a range of concerns. U.S. consumers also have their doubts.

According to a biweekly survey of 500 adults by market research firm NPD Group, 56 percent said they're concerned about the health hazards posed by genetically modified foods. (Reporting by Anjali Athavaley; Editing by Jilian Mincer and Cynthia Osterman)