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Food Industry Groups Say They'll Label GMOs, On Their Terms

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Millions Against Monsanto page and our Genetic Engineering page.

Remember those ballot initiatives in California and Washington that aimed to get food companies to label products containing genetically modified ingredients?

They failed, in 2012 and 2013, respectively, thanks in part to the tens of millions of dollars lavished by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food industry groups on campaigns to convince consumers that labeling would make their food more expensive.

Even though the food industry won those battles, it's not exactly eager to rehash them elsewhere. So now the GMA €” along with a new coalition of 28 groups representing farmers, seed companies and other food producers who rely heavily on GMO ingredients €” is changing its tune a bit.

In an open acknowledgement that many consumers are annoyed that GMO ingredients aren't labeled, a coalition announced Thursday that it supports labeling €” sort of.

"The [Food and Drug Association] up to now has said that GMOs are safe, but we also recognize that some consumers want more information and companies might want to include GMO information, so we are asking the FDA to outline labeling standards companies can use voluntarily," Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told reporters in a teleconference Thursday.

The move represents the industry's attempt to try to preempt any future state ballot initiatives, which could turn as messy and costly as what played out in California and Washington. And the coalition admitted as much.

"The results of the enormous misinformation put out there, particularly in California and Washington, really compelled us and 28 other groups to step forward and say, 'Enough is enough. We need some help,' " Chuck Connor, president of the National Council of Farm Cooperatives, another group in the coalition, said during the teleconference.

"Help" as defined by the groups is not only a voluntary federal labeling standard, but also a bill that would bar all states from trying to mandate labels at all. In other words, the industry groups would like to crush any possibility of mandatory labels, and instead create a more relaxed system in which companies that want to label can, and companies that don't will never have to. (You can check out the discussion draft of GMA's proposed bill, which was leaked to POLITICO in January.)