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How does industry feel about the new U.S. GMO-labeling law? We took the temperature at last week's IFT trade show.
It’s finally here. In July, Congress passed what will likely become the first mandatory, federal GMO-labeling law in the U.S. President Obama had not yet signed the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act (S. 764) into law at press time, but he was largely expected to. Now that the U.S. has its first nationwide GMO-labeling law, how does the food and dietary supplement industry feel about it?
The reaction has been fairly positive-or, at the very least, one of acceptance. Food industry groups, such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are of course enthusiastic about the new law because, although the law is mandatory, it will be minimally painful for food companies worried about putting the term GMO on their labels; instead the law lets firms “label” with a simple QR code that directs consumers online to read actual information about GMO content. Simply put, if you don’t want to put the word GMO on your label at all, this law lets you do just that.
Given that many finished-product marketers and ingredient suppliers now seek to market non-GMO products, it may be surprising to hear that many view this law as a good compromise between those who want more-stringent GMO labeling and those who want less. In a press statement, Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC), called the bill (which President Obama had not yet signed) “reasonable.” He said, “This bill is a constructive and practical solution for consumers seeking to educate themselves about whether or not products contain genetically engineered ingredients in order to make informed purchasing decisions.”
Those who support the law view it as a good thing for one important reason-it is a nationwide law that will avoid the complication of numerous individual state-level GMO-labeling laws. In this vein, CRN’s Mister said the pending law “prevents a patchwork of state-by-state laws that would have led to consumer confusion and higher product costs.”
At July’s Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo (IFT), I asked companies how they felt about the law. Reactions were fairly positive. Most pointed to the federal standard as beneficial. Nancy Gaul, senior category manager of health, wellness, and dairy for Tate & Lyle (Decatur, IL), said, “One thing that we hear from customers that is a positive is the fact that it’s a federal law. The idea of having different states creating their own laws is something that the industry, from what we hear, didn’t want to happen.”
From that vantage point, Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association (Silver Spring, MD), also supported the federal standard in a press statement: “From an industry perspective, there is significant relief in knowing there will be a single regulatory obligation for disclosure of GMOs in foods sold in the United States, rather than having to deal with various state laws.” (He did, however, recognize those who still feel this law may not be strict enough: “On the other hand, many of AHPA's members view the law's allowance of disclosure of presence of genetically engineered ingredients through a QR code as lacking in transparency and not sufficient to completely inform consumers.”)
For the most part, most of those I spoke to at the IFT trade show did not seemed troubled by the new law, nor did they seem to think it would fundamentally change their business.
Nina Hughes-Likins, senior marketing manager for supplier Synergy Flavors (Wauconda, IL), said, “From a flavor manufacturer’s perspective, we’re glad that [Congress] passed something that obviously will please some of the people, and it’s not so strict that it’s going to pass on the cost to the consumer in the end. So, I think it’s a great compromise.”
Hughes-Likins also noted that the law probably would not alone be responsible for any significant demand growth for non-GMO ingredients. Simply put, if companies were looking for non-GMO ingredients prior to the law, they will continue doing so. Hughes-Likins pointed out that “if the law had gone the other route” by requiring more-stringent GMO-labeling, “then, yes, we would have had a lot more demand for non-GMO.” Instead, she said, “there are still going to be people who want non-GMO. It’s still going to be on trend.”
If anything, the law will provide information on GMO content that previously was absent-and more information is better than none. “This bill is a constructive and practical solution for consumers seeking to educate themselves about whether or not products contain genetically engineered ingredients in order to make informed purchasing decisions. It also provides reasonable options for companies to convey this information in a way that is easy for consumers to access and understand,” Mister said. “It’s a win all around.”
Nutritional Outlook magazine