Politico Pro
By Jenny Hopkinson

WebThe Grocery Manufacturers Association is calling in friends to help in its push for a federal GMO labeling law to preempt state requirements.

A lot of friends.

The influential food industry group announced the creation of its 29-member “Coalition for Safe Affordable Food” Thursday.

“We’ve all been talking about this for some time. What we’ve determined is now is the time for us to stand together,” Pamela Bailey, GMA’s president and CEO, said, during a roughly one-hour call with nearly a dozen reporters, a sign of the growing interest in the battle over whether to mandate the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms.

This “is not one or two or three groups. This is a coalition that is unprecedented in the value chain.”

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As if GMA wasn’t enough of a heavyweight, the coalition includes the American Bakers Association, American Beverage Association, American Frozen Food Institute, National Corn Growers Association and the Biotechnology Industry Association, just to name a few.

The coalition is calling for legislation that would require mandatory premarket approval of GMO food ingredients by FDA and grant authority to the agency to label products that raise safety concerns, set up a voluntary program for food companies to label foods that are GMO free, include GMO ingredients in a definition of “natural” foods and preempt state labeling laws.

While the coalition was formally launched today, the priorities laid out by the group mirror long-standing calls by GMA for federal legislation. In January, POLITICO reported on a leaked discussion draft of a document that revealed what specifically the trade group is seeking. However, despite GMA’s effort to lobby members of Congress to introduce such a bill, which has been going on since at least October, it seems lawmakers have yet to sign on.

“We don’t know of any specific plans of a specific bill at this point but we are going to redouble our efforts,” Bailey said, adding, however, that in conversations with lawmakers thus far, she has been “encouraged with the very positive reaction that we’ve gotten.”

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Bailey said the group also would be following its launch Thursday by holding conversations with FDA about its position on GMO labeling.

This is not GMA dragging other agriculture food industry groups along on its initiative, Bailey stressed.

“This is very much a coalition effort,” she said. “We are formally organized and we are formally going together on this issue.”

When asked why the group was mobilizing now, Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farm Cooperatives, another one of the coalition members, responded that the recent GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington state, which were narrowly defeated, played a significant part. In particular, he said there was “an enormous [amount of] misinformation” provided consumers during the campaigns for those initiatives.

The GMA-led coalition spans farm and grain producer groups, food groups and representatives from the biotech industry, representatives of which backed the need for a federal solution to prevent a 50-state patchwork of regulation and ensure consumer confidence in GMO products.

“If every state had a different requirement for [GMOs], our farmers just couldn’t adapt to that,” Ray Gaesser, president of the American Soybean Association, said on the call. What’s more he added, it costs farmers about 15 to 30 percent more to grow and handle an “identity-preserved crop,” referring to conventional crops that cannot mingle with GMO strains. That cost would be eventually handed down to the consumer, Gaesser said.

Bailey pointed to “independent economic studies” that she said showed the average American family would pay $400 per year to compensate for such labeling requirements.

The American Feed Industry Association backed those concerns in a statement issued today, proudly announcing its membership in the coalition.

“If a labeling solution is not agreed upon and even a few of the pending state initiatives are successful, the feed industry’s cost of doing business goes up, on-farm production costs go up, and ultimately the consumer pays the price, with no important information in hand,” said Leah Wilkinson, AFIA director of ingredients, pet food and state affairs.

The coalition will also aim to help inform consumers on the current science behind GMO foods, noted Cathleen Enright, executive vice president at BIO. Major health organizations, including the FDA and World Health Organization, have said that GMO crops are safe for consumption based on reviews of the current body of research, she noted.

“This is a farm-to-fork education effort,” Enright said. “It’s time for use to get our information out to tell our stories and help folks understand the use of the technology.”

The other members of the coalition are: AACC International/American Phytopathological Society, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Seed Trade Association, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, Corn Refiners Association, Council for Responsible Nutrition, Flavor & Extract Manufacturers Association, Global Cold Chain Alliance, International Dairy Foods Association, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Confectioners Association, National Fisheries Institute, National Grain & Feed Association, National Oilseed Processors Association, National Restaurant Association, National Turkey Federation, North American Millers Association, Snack Food Association and the U.S. Beet Sugar Association.

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