Grocery Manufacturers Association: No more food-labeling initiatives
The Grocery Manufacturers Association is quietly pressing for toothless, voluntary national food-labeling standards as a way of heading off more state ballot measures like last fall’s Initiative 522 in Washington, according to a GMA memo leaked to the Politico website.
The GMA and its allies spent more than $22 million to narrowly defeat I-522, which would have required the labeling of genetically modified foods, seeds and seed stocks sold in Washington. During the 2012 election, the food and agribusiness industries shelled out $47 million in barely beating a similar measure in California.
“We believe it’s important for Congress to engage and provide FDA (Food and Drug Administration) with the ability to have a national standard (on GMO labeling),” Louis Finkel, the GMA’s chief lobbyist, writes in the memo.
Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, shot back: “Clearly this is an industry that will stop at nothing to hide from its customers basic information on what’s in their food. If this proposal were to become law, it would be impossible for any state to require labeling of genetically engineered foods even if a majority of residents demand it.”
In his memo, Finkel notes: “We’ve fought a mandatory label at the state level because we believe that a mandatory label misinforms consumers,” presumably by arousing suspicion of what is contained in the foods they buy.
Using internal GMA memos, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has sued the organization for violating Washington’s public disclosure laws by laundering money in last fall’s campaign, which set a record for spending to oppose a Washington initiative.
The GMA formed a front group so food industry giants — Pepsico, Coca Cola, Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg, Smuckers and other firms — could avoid having their names listed as contributors to the anti-522 campaign. The GMA responded by disclosing a list of six- and seven-figure donors whose money went into No on 522.
The AG’s suit is still pending, months after the laundered money was spent blanketing the state with TV spots featuring such figures as former state AG Ken Eikenberry and former state agriculture director Dan Newhouse.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association faces opposition on Capitol Hill. A mandatory-labeling bill has been introduced by two West Coast lawmakers, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
“If they are going to kindle a national debate, given the polling on this issue, they better be thinking billions proactively rather than tens of millions,” DeFazio told Politico.