Coalition seeks federal action on G.M.O. labeling

by Jeff Gelski
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WASHINGTON — A new federal law should require labeling of foods and beverages with bioengineered ingredients, but only if there is a health or safety risk, according to a newly formed coalition of 29 industry groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the American Bakers Association and the American Beverage Association.

The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food was launched Feb. 6.

“We’re advocating to Congress to develop a federal G.M.O. labeling solution that would require labeling of foods containing G.M.O. ingredients if the F.D.A., our nation’s foremost food safety authority, determines that there is a health or safety risk,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, in a Feb. 6 teleconference. “All available science has shown that G.M.O.s are safe and that they have a number of important benefits.”

The coalition also asked the F.D.A. to establish federal standards for companies wanting to voluntarily label their products for the absence of bioengineered ingredients or the presence of bioengineered ingredients.

“We also recognize that some consumers want further information, and some companies may voluntarily want to provide that information, with respect to either the absence of or the inclusion of G.M.O. ingredients in their products,” Ms. Bailey said. “So we are asking that the F.D.A. outline clear labeling standards that companies can use voluntarily.”

For one other request, the coalition asked the F.D.A. to conduct safety reviews of all new bioengineered traits before they are introduced into commerce.

“That review is currently voluntary,” said Cathleen Enright, executive vice-president of food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, in the teleconference. “F.D.A. does not take a position. They just look at the safety data that is provided. That would change with a move from a voluntary review to a mandatory review.”

The formation of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food drew criticism from the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, a national, non-profit organization. It said the G.M.A. is renewing its efforts to block states from mandating the labeling of foods with bioengineered ingredients.

“These companies spent nearly $70 million in California and Washington state to defeat G.E. labeling initiatives,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “They know that the food movement’s power is growing and that labeling is not a matter of if, but when. These companies have failed to win over consumers who overwhelmingly support the mandatory labeling of G.M.O.s, and now they’re trying to steal away consumer choice in Congress.”

Ms. Bailey spoke against states enacting their own labeling laws.

“A federal G.M. labeling solution will eliminate consumer confusion, avoid an unnecessary and confusing 50-state patchwork of G.M.O. labeling laws and provide confidence in the safety of our food supply,” she said.

Ray Gaesser, president of the American Soybean Association, gave an example of how state-by-state labeling might affect soybean growers in Missouri, which borders eight states.

“If every single one of those states passed their own labeling requirements, with different thresholds for G.M. ingredients, your average soybean farmer would have to establish eight different supply chains,” he said in the teleconference.
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