The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


GMA fighting California GMO labeling initiative

Grocery Manufacturers Association President and CEO Pamela Bailey said today that she is organizing an effort to defeat the California initiative that would require labeling of foods derived from genetically modified products, saying she considers it to be “a serious, long term threat to the viability of agricultural biotechnology.”

Pamela Bailey
Pamela Bailey
“Defeating the initative is GMA’s single highest priority this year,” Bailey said in a speech to the American Soybean Association. “We have worked with you on what we consider to be valuable technology, but in the past year we have seen an increase in the rhetoric against it.”

Asked by a soybean grower about GMA’s association with agribusiness and meat groups opposed to the renewable fuel standard, which the soybean growers support, Bailey said that GMA is ignoring that issue this year in favor of campaigning against the “Just Label It” initiative.

Bailey said the difference between the anti-biotech initiative in Oregon 10 years ago and this year’s California initiative is that the California proposal “is really a key strategy in a national campaign organized and driven by a vocal, organized organic movement” rather by environmentalists.

“They are maintaining it is threatening their way of life,” she added.

The other difference, she said, “is that social media is feeding this effort and making it more difficult to confront and more powerful.”

Organizers of the “Just Label It” campaign have emphasized they are campaigning for labeling, not against genetically modified food, but Bailey said it is really a campaign against genetic modification.

But she said polling has shown that voters object to the exemptions for food served in restaurants, dairy, meat, poultry, alcoholic beverages, and imported food and beverage accompanied by a GMO-free declaration from the manufacturer. “That seems to undercut the consumer right to know,” she said.

The American Medical Association helped the campaign by passing a resolution that said there was no need for GMO labeling, but complicated it by saying that biotechnology regulation could be improved.

“If California wins, you need to be worried the campaign will come to your state,” Bailey said. If the inotiative passes there, “it could signal erosion of consumer confidence in the safety of foods,” she said.

GMA has put together a team of strategists and public relations professionals and is determined to win, but also already begun examining legal strategies to oppose it in the courts if it becomes law.

Asked whether companies will have separate labeling regimes for California and the rest of the country if the initiative passes, Bailey said, “That is a really good question. You know what happened in Europe [ where GMO products are generally not sold]. We don’t want to go there and see companies having to make choices.”

In a separate speech to the soybean growers, DuPont Chairman and CEO Ellen Kullman said her company is assisting the GMA effort.

The California initiative “seems” like an attack on biotechnology, she said, adding “California is always an interesting place to do business.”

DuPont believes the initiative “is not going the right direction in a world that needs more food productivity,” Kullman said.