Different options for national G.M.O. labeling

by Jeff Gelski
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All food items sold by Enjoy Life Foods are Non-GMO Project Verified.

SCHILLER PARK, ILL. — All food items sold by Enjoy Life Foods are Non-GMO Project Verified. Yet Joel Warady, the company’s chief sales and marketing officer, said Enjoy Life Foods agrees with certain aspects, but certainly not all aspects, of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which seeks to prevent statewide labeling laws for food products with bioengineered/genetically modified ingredients.

“We believe that the need to have a national labeling standard is absolutely there,” Mr. Warady said. “I think we differ a little bit from some of our natural brethren out there in that we think having state-by-state laws is nothing but problematic.”

The U.S. House of Representatives on July 23 approved the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599), which aims to provide national uniformity regarding G.M.O. labeling and to prevent a patchwork of conflicting state or local labeling laws. Mr. Warady said that while Enjoy Life Foods wants national labeling, the company believes this bill is “not the right one.”

Joel Warady, the Enjoy Life's chief sales and marketing officer.

“I don’t think the average consumer understands why it would be so difficult to label products differently for each state,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s impossible. Anything is possible. It would be logistically a nightmare, and it would cost a lot of money.

“We just think that this bill, while it calls for national labeling, it actually calls for less transparency, and that’s where we take issue with it.”

The bill would require labeling of a food produced from a genetically engineered plant only if the Secretary of Health and Human Services determines there is a “material difference in the functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity or other attributes between the food so produced and its comparable food, and the disclosure of such material difference is necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading.”

Mr. Warady said, “While they call for a national labeling standard law, we think they did it in a way that actually would require no labeling. It became somewhat voluntary.”

The bill also addresses voluntary national standards on products labeled as non-bioengineered/non-genetically modified. Mr. Warady said such an action, if passed into law, would strengthen third-party certifiers like The Non-GMO Project. He compared it to how the F.D.A. established a gluten-free definition and how that definition in his opinion benefitted such third-party certifiers as the Gluten-Free Certification Organization.

Enjoy Life Foods considers itself a leading brand in the “free-from” category, as in gluten-free and free from bioengineered ingredients and allergens.

Enjoy Life Foods considers itself a leading brand in the “free-from” category, as in gluten-free and free from bioengineered ingredients and allergens. Mondelēz International, Deerfield, Ill., acquired Enjoy Life Foods earlier this year. Enjoy Life Foods operates as a separate, wholly-owned subsidiary of Mondelēz.

While Mondelēz International is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Enjoy Life Foods is not, Mr. Warady said. The G.M.A. has sued Vermont in an attempt to stop the state from instituting a mandatory G.M.O. labeling law scheduled to go into effect next July.

“Where we do agree with the G.M.A. is we believe that a national program is the right way to go,” Mr. Warady said. “The state laws, that’s just going to cause a logistical nightmare.”

The G.M.A. also has said it agrees with the F.D.A. and other scientific bodies and regulatory agencies who have said foods and beverages containing bioengineered ingredients are safe and materially no different than products that do not contain bioengineered ingredients. Enjoy Life Foods differs somewhat from the G.M.A. on this issue.

“We don’t necessarily know that G.M.O.s are bad,” Mr. Warady said. “We’re not saying that. What we’re saying is the science is still early. The research is early. The research only dates back to the early ‘90s. What we’re saying is, until there is that (certainty) G.M.O.s are 100% safe or 100% unsafe, let the consumer make the decision based on awareness.”
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