G.M.A. puts G.M.O.s on the fast track

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON – State and local efforts to require the labeling of food and beverage products containing bioengineered ingredients have prompted the Grocery Manufacturers Association to call for the development of a national strategy. At the center of these efforts are the Food and Drug Administration and Congress.

The G.M.A. is asking the Food and Drug Administration to define what constitutes a “natural” food or beverage product. In a Dec. 5 letter to the F.D.A. the trade association said it wants the agency to make a determination of whether foods containing ingredients derived from bioengineering may be labeled as natural.

Despite considering the issue several times during the past 35 years, the F.D.A. has declined to establish a regulatory definition of natural. Instead, the agency has developed a “natural claims policy” that is enforced through warning letters sent to companies labeling products as natural that contain ingredients that are artificial or synthetic.

The G.M.A. also is working with federal lawmakers to introduce a bill that will create the framework for a national labeling effort, according to Reuters. The legislation would mandate consistent labeling of non-G.M.O. and G.M.O. foods, while nullifying state laws not identical to the federal law. Another provision under consideration would make it mandatory for seed developers to notify the F.D.A. before they introduce a new bioengineered crop to the marketplace - currently that notification is voluntary. The G.M.A. did not specify when the legislation would be introduced other than to say it would be soon.

It is clear the anti-G.M.O. sentiment that is driving many of the state labeling legislative efforts has momentum. While most have fallen short of their goal, the efforts show no sign of abating.

The International Dairy Foods Association will be discussing the issue during its annual Dairy Forum, to be held Jan. 26-29 in Palm Desert, Calif. At the center of the I.D.F.A.’s discussion will be current efforts to legislate the issue as well as consumer sentiment about the topic.

Managing consumer sentiment will be as important as developing a national framework around the labeling of bioengineered ingredients. Even if the G.M.A. is successful in its efforts it will not stop the discussion. In fact, it will probably intensify it, and that is a discussion the food and beverage industry must be ready to participate in.
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