By Michele Simon
(Grist) – In case you had any doubt that California’s Prop 37 — which would require labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — poses a significant threat to the food industry, a top food lobby has now made it perfectly clear that it does.
In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association (most soy grown in the U.S. is GMO), Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), said that defeating the initiative “is the single highest priority for GMA this year.”
You may not know the GMA, but its members represent the nation’s largest food producers — those with the most at stake in the battle over GMO labeling. Soft drink and snack giant PepsiCo, cereal makers Kellogg and General Mills, and of course, biotech behemoth Monsanto all belong to the GMA.
According to state filing reports, GMA has already spent $375,000 on its efforts to oppose the labeling measure, with its members adding additional out-of-state lobbying power in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Big Food: “Lobbying is us”
This is hardly the first time the nation’s most powerful trade association of food manufacturers has marshaled its resources to oppose food and nutrition policy — at both the national and state levels.
For years GMA flexed its lobbying muscle in state legislatures all over the country fighting bills that were simply trying to remove junk food and soda from school vending machines.
Big Food lobbyists have also banded together to vociferously fight any attempt to restrict junk food marketing to children. For example, in 2005, GMA was a founding member of the Alliance for American Advertising, whose stated purpose was to defend the food industry’s alleged First Amendment right to advertise to children and to promote voluntary self-regulation as an alternative to government action.
More recently, GMA was among leading trade groups and corporations opposing the federal government’s attempt to improve industry’s own voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children. As this Reuters special report from April explains, GMA’s chief lobbyist visited the White House last July along with several top food industry representatives (from companies including Nestle, Kellogg, and General Mills) to scuttle an effort by four federal agencies that would have protected children from predatory junk food marketing.
Big Food loves labels
It seems ironic that the same companies taking advantage of every inch of packaging space to convince shoppers to purchase their products would object so strongly to labeling for something they claim is not harmful.
In recent years, the federal government has gone so far as to recognize that food companies’ so-called “front of package” labeling is out of control. Federal agencies have commissioned not one but two Institute of Medicine reports in search of solutions to the problem.
Unwilling to tolerate government intervention, the GMA has been aggressively promoting its own new nutrition-labeling scheme called “Facts Up Front.” But as Food Politics author and nutrition professor Marion Nestle has explained, this is an obvious end-run around the feds. Here’s how the food industry describes its own voluntary program:
“Facts Up Front” is a nutrient-based labeling system that summarizes important information from the Nutrition Facts Panel in a simple and easy-to-use format on the front of food and beverage packages.
Translation: We are repeating information already required on the back of the package, but placing it in a format we like better on the front.
See how that works? The food industry is always in charge.
So polls indicating that a whopping 90 percent of Californians want GMOs labeled, and the fact that 40 other nations (including the European Union, Brazil, and China) already require food makers to disclose GMOs, have GMA shaking in its boots.
In her recent speech, GMA President Bailey warned her audience: “If California wins, you need to be worried the campaign will come to your state.”
She’s right. In fact, they should be very worried.