Confusion about nutrition science - organic, non-GMO, natural
A lack of clarity surrounds the issue of nutrition science, confusing consumers and creating a problem for the food and beverage industry.

WASHINGTON — A lack of clarity around the issue of nutrition science is problematic for the food and beverage industry and must be addressed, said Pamela G. Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Pamela G. Bailey, G.M.A.
Pamela G. Bailey, president and c.e.o. of the G.M.A.

“ … As good as we are on food safety and can point to a consensus around the best science to inform food safety science, we are not there yet on nutrition science,” she said April 19 at the opening session of the G.M.A.’s annual Science Forum, taking place this week in Washington. “I’ll start with a simple question: what is nutrition science and what is it not? On this question, I suspect we could share passionate views all day.

“What is fact? What distinguishes opinion from science? Why do consumers respect the science of food safety but seem to have much less confidence in the science of nutrition? What is the role of industry, government, N.G.O.s (non-governmental organizations), and yes, even the media in sorting this out? How do we help address — thoughtfully — the matter of consumer confusion? Whether it’s Dietary Guidelines, the Nutrition Facts Panel, — or social media bloggers and commentators — one real concern is the reality we all face of increasingly being confronted with so-called ‘expert’ advice on nutrition. Who is an expert?”

Ms. Bailey asked a lot of questions, and in the end admitted she didn’t know many of the answers. She called on the industry to increase its efforts to find a new grounding in sound science for nutrition policy.

“For me, the urgency of this was reinforced in reading last week’s Washington Post and New York Times stories on a major controlled clinical trial study conducted in Minnesota over 40 years ago regarding dietary fat but never published,” she said. “As the Post headline stated: ‘This study 40 years ago could have reshaped the American diet. But it was never published.’ The findings concluded replacing saturated fats from milk, cheese and beef with fat from vegetable oils may have reduced blood cholesterol but did not lower the risk of death from heart disease.”

She added that the industry is failing consumers it seeks to serve if it can’t agree on what constitutes sound science and more effectively evaluate and practice that science and communicate it to consumers.

“So, we have a problem,” she said. “We don’t yet have an answer. We know we have a need. Americans care about good nutrition and want the best advice government can provide. This is not a partisan nor should it be a political issue.”

GMO label on M&Ms
Vermont’s G.M.O. labeling law has cornered companies into announcing G.M.O. labeling decisions.

She pointed to Vermont’s G.M.O. labeling law that is scheduled to go into effect July 1 as an example of what may happen when government policies are not based on science.

“So, let’s take a look at where we are,” she said. “Vermont’s law is now the de facto national standard. Companies with extensive national supply chains long ago had to begin compliance steps. They waited as long as they could but the looming $1,000 a day fine per product is just too onerous. Thus, after the Senate failed to act on the federal preemption bill last month, some companies had no choice but to announce their labeling decisions.

“Some have asked: if companies are now labeling for Vermont, isn’t this debate over? Is there no longer a need for federal legislation? Our answer … is this: It is even more urgent that the Senate act now and act quickly. We face a paradigm shift in the very nature of American agriculture. These labels are just the beginning of a new era of confusion and increased food costs for consumers and chaos for our national food supply chain.”

She said the state of California has rejected a Vermont compliant label for a nationally marketed product and that other states are considering similar disapprovals.

“Meanwhile, more states are still debating their own, unique G.M.O. label mandates,” Ms. Bailey said. “And they all differ in important ways from Vermont. One in Rhode Island wants labels on the front and the back. In Massachusetts, their proposal will alter the very definition of G.E. And in New York and Massachusetts, both would add massive new record-keeping requirements on grocery stores. And these are just the tip of the iceberg of new and confusing rules if these laws pass.”