Jan 13 The Grocery Manufacturers Association,
which represents more than 300 food companies, is preparing a
petition to the chief U.S. food safety regulator and a push in
Congress to require changes in oversight and labeling of new
genetically modified foods, an association leader said Monday.
The double-pronged strategy, which the group expects roll
out early this year, is aimed at squelching state-by-state
efforts to mandate labeling of foods containing biotech crops,
and at the same time setting a standard that among other things
would authorize GMO foods to be touted as "natural."
GMO and natural labeling issues have prompted scores of
lawsuits around the country and a mix of practices by different
food companies. More than two dozen states are examining GMO
labeling laws, and state ballot measures in California and
Washington have cost the food industry more than $70 million in
campaign spending to defeat.
"We should not be making food safety labeling decisions
through a patchwork of state laws," Louis Finkel, executive vice
president of government affairs for the GMA, said in an
Finkel said his group has been working with a broad
coalition, including biotech crop developers, to put together
its legislative and labeling proposals. He would not say which
lawmakers the group was working with on the legislation but
that it should be introduced soon. The legislation would mandate
consistent labeling of non-GMO and GMO foods, while nullifying
state laws not identical to the federal law.
Another provision would make it mandatory for biotech crop
developers to notify the Food and Drug Administration before
they introduce a new genetically modified crop to the
marketplace - currently that notification is voluntary.
"Making it mandatory gives consumers greater confidence,"
The bill also would set specific time frames in which the
FDA has to respond to mandatory notifications.
The FDA currently engages in what it calls "consultations"
with crop developers. The agency then typically issues a letter
to those crop developers reminding them that it is a
developer's responsibility to ensure its products are safe.
The legislation would not change that aspect of oversight
but allow the FDA to specify "any special labeling" to protect
health and safety or to "prevent the label of bioengineered food
from being false or misleading."
The bill would also allow food manufacturers to label their
food products as "GMO-free" under certain conditions,
Manufacturers would not be allowed to imply that a food is
less safe or more safe because of the absence or presence of
Biotech crops currently on the market include corn,
soybeans, canola, and sugar beets that have been genetically
altered to repel pests or tolerate direct spraying of
herbicides. Those crops are used in a vast array of food
products and the companies that develop them say the crops are
safe. Many scientific studies back those claims.
But there are also studies showing links to human and animal
health problems, and environmental damage. Last October, an
international coalition of scientists declared there still was
no consensus in the global scientific community about the safety
of genetically modified crops, which were first commercialized
The GMA is also pushing the FDA to develop a federal
definition of the term "natural" on food packaging, and to
authorize foods containing biotech ingredients to be labeled as
"Consumers deserve to understand what that word natural
means on a package," Finkel said.
Finkel said he had no criticism of a recent move by General
Mills to declare its original Cheerios breakfast cereal
to be GMO-free and that it was merely a "marketplace decision."
Critics of GMO crops said the proposed legislation was aimed
at misleading consumers and covering up concerns about biotech
"Concerned citizens want mandatory labeling of GMOs and
don't want natural foods containing GMOs to be labeled as
natural," said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers
Association. "I doubt seriously that they can get this through."