Natural Products Groups Take a Stand on GMO Labeling

July 17, 2013

Earlier this week, NPA and AHPA announced support for various GMO labeling schemes.

In the past year, many U.S. states have considered proposals to require labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food. Earlier this week, two of the natural products industry’s leading trade associations announced support for various GMO labeling schemes.

The Natural Products Association (NPA; Washington, DC) officially endorsed the bipartisan Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, introduced in April by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), along with cosponsors Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Don Young (R-AK). The bill would require FDA to enforce labeling of GMO-containing food, with the thought that consumers will know whether the food they buy contains GMO ingredients.

“By endorsing the bill, NPA becomes the first and largest natural products industry trade association to back the legislation, giving it crucial support as Americans continue to call for stronger GMO labeling,” the association said in a press release. Prior to announcing its support for this bill, the association, which represents retailers, manufacturers, and distributors of natural products, recently called for a national, uniform labeling standard for GMOs.

“Supporting this legislation is the next logical step for the Natural Products Association,” said NPA’s executive director and CEO John Shaw. “In the last few months, the association has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring consumers know what’s in their food. We feel strongly that this bill is in line with our guiding principles on GMO labeling, and that it will lead the country on the path toward transparency that Americans are demanding.”

Also this week, herbal industry group the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA; Silver Spring, MD) announced it is advocating for federal regulation covering voluntary, not mandatory, disclosure of GMO ingredients on labels for food and dietary supplements. The group is calling for a single federal regulation that it says would be more effective than the “patchwork” of GMO labeling schemes various states have proposed.

The association also pointed to some differences between its proposal and others already on the table. “While federal legislation has been introduced to require mandatory identification of food produced with genetic engineering, this legislation would largely rely on ‘guarantees’ provided by ingredient suppliers,” AHPA said in a press release.

By contrast, AHPA proposes that manufacturers should be the ones to provide that guarantee. “It is possible that a voluntary program that motivates manufacturers to comply will provide more and better information to consumers than one based primarily on the promises of ingredient suppliers,” said AHPA president Michael McGuffin.

The group’s voluntary versus mandatory approach reflects the opinions of its membership. “AHPA's members have diverse views when it comes to labeling products to disclose genetically engineered ingredients,” said McGuffin. “The AHPA board's action signals support for the broadly expressed consumer interest in making informed purchase decisions when it comes to GE/GMO foods, while recognizing a 'voluntary disclosure of absence' approach as the best regulatory option to accomplish this.” 

In 2007, AHPA adopted a guidance policy that “supports labeling of consumer goods to identify any ingredients that are herbal raw agricultural products knowingly and intentionally cultivated with GMO technologies ... in a manner that assures that consumers are informed that the ingredient was cultivated with GMO technology.”