Though previously confined to individual states, the discussion about food labeling and what consumers need to know about their food has ballooned in recent years. That's why a new group stepped out on Thursday to advocate for a larger, national change in the way foods are labeled – and, in part, attempt to refocus the conversation on GMOs' track record.
The group, called the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, is head up by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Corn Growers Association. Nearly 30 additional organizations are also part of the coalition.
The groups place the burden of finding a national solution to GM labeling squarely on the shoulders of Congress.
"A federal solution on GMO labeling will bolster consumer confidence in the safety of American food by reaffirming the U.S. Food & Drug Administration role as the nation's foremost authority on the use and labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients." said Martin Barbre, NCGA president.
According to the FDA, GMO ingredients in food present no negative health effects. The Coalition hopes to create consistency in labeling policies and find a labeling solution that will "protect consumers and ensure the safety of food ingredients made through the use of modern agricultural biotechnology."
Specifics of the plan:
• Eliminate Confusion: Remove the confusion and uncertainty of a 50 state patchwork of GMO safety and labeling laws and affirm the FDA as the nation's authority for the use and labeling of genetically modified food ingredients.
• Advance Food Safety: Require the FDA to conduct a safety review of all new GMO traits before they are introduced into commerce. FDA will be empowered to mandate the labeling of GMO food ingredients if the agency determines there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with an ingredient derived from a GMO.
• Inform Consumers: The FDA will establish federal standards for companies that want to voluntarily label their product for the absence-of or presence-of GMO food ingredients so that consumers clearly understand their choices in the marketplace.
• Provide Consistency: The FDA will define the term "natural" for its use on food and beverage products so that food and beverage companies and consumers have a consistent legal framework that will guide food labels and inform consumer choice
Rumors about GMA's plan to counter ongoing efforts to label GMOs surfaced last month, as reported by pro-GMO labeling group the Center for Food Safety.
The group argues that GMO labels are necessary because consumers have a right to know exactly what is in their food. But opponents of labeling say that it will add costs – and argue that GMOs are safe.
"Foods made with genetically modified ingredients are safe and have a number of important benefits for people and our planet," Pamela G. Bailey, Grocery Manufacturers Association CEO commented. "Our nation's food safety and labeling laws should not be set by political campaigns or state and local legislatures, but by the FDA, the nation's foremost food safety agency.
The technology, Bailey said, has "fostered a revolution in American agriculture" that benefits consumers through increased food production.
"A federal GMO labeling solution will provide a framework for the safe and continued use of technology that is essential to the future of our planet," she added.
Some states already require GMO labels, such as Connecticut and Maine. Bills in both states, however, have several caveats that require other states to enact similar legislation before they can take effect.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., just last December, suggested that President Obama skip the Congressional process and direct the FDA to require labels on food containing GM ingredients.
Others, like Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., have suggested federal labeling legislation, thought it hasn't been considered.
Mandatory labels or bust
The Center for Food Safety says the formation of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food is a testament to the growing national GMO labeling movement.
“These companies spent nearly $70 million in California and Washington State to defeat GE (genetically engineered) labeling initiatives. They know that the food movement’s power is growing and that labeling is not a matter of if but when," commented Andrew Kimbrell, CFS executive director.
"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."
Kimbrell argued that no food companies want to voluntarily label foods containing GM ingredients because "GE foods offer consumers no benefits and only potential risk."
"Voluntary labeling is an absolutely ineffective policy solution and is not a substitute for mandatory labeling," Kimbrell said. "Instead of working together to meet consumer demand, GMA is using its deep pockets to ensure that congress and consumers are misled about their food supply."