Last month consumers won a small victory when the FDA agreed to publish new guidelines for food labels. There wouldn't be identification of GMO-modified foods, but at least the portion sizes and calorie counts would be more consumer-friendly and realistic. The new guidelines will also require clearer disclosure about sugars added to pre-packaged food. A no-brainer, right?
Wrong. After the requisite polite statement about how they were looking forward to working with the FDA, the Grocery Manufacturers Association promptly turned around and created their own label in an effort to pre-empt FDA action. The picture at the top depicts the FDA regulatory change; the one below is what trade association groups Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute want on the front of the package:
In response to the FDA’s announcement, Big Food’s lobbyists were polite enough. One industry consultant told Politico, “I don’t think anyone is going to be foolish enough to attack the first lady — that’s just stupid.” But behind the scenes, they are griping. “It’s sort of a laundry list of everything the industry didn’t want.”
Translation: Expect Big Food to fight like hell. The regulations are far from final. After the requisite 90-day comment period, any revisions from the FDA have to be approved by the White House (where they are could get stalled), and then food companies would have two years to comply.
Meanwhile, the food industry isn’t content to just submit comments. Instead, as reported in Politico, Big Food’s lobbying powerhouses — the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute — are teaming up to spend $50 million to promote a different, voluntary labeling scheme, just in time to confuse shoppers even more. Called Facts up Front, it consists of a fewnutrition items that the large food makers have chosen to display on the front of packages. This is essentially the same information that is already required on the back but with the advantage that companies get to cherry-pick the nutritional information that they serve up to shoppers. And in true industry fashion, there is nothing new about this program. It was first announced by Big Food lobbyists in 2011, and even then it was a renaming of yet another industry scheme, called Nutrition Keys. As “Food Politics” author Marion Nestle so aptly put it, “Food industry thinks name change will disguise bad labeling scheme.”
The board of directors for the Grocery Manufacturers' Association reads like a listing for the US Chamber of Commerce. Koch's Georgia-Pacific is represented along with every major food company, including junk food, and every other kind of food except organic, family-farm grown food.
Big Food doesn't just oppose food labels proposed by the First Lady and the FDA. They were one of the driving forces behind the defeat of California and Washington State's food labeling initiatives. As you can see from the clip of their 2012 990 below, they spared no expense in California. One of their top priorities is to fight all state-based food labeling initiatives.
Keep in mind, this is a fight about labels. It doesn't address the question of what's in their products, it doesn't address whether those products are at all nutritious or good for people to eat. It's about a damned label.
You wait for it. They'll fight this tooth and nail and spend more money fighting it than they would just changing around the label so people could possibly make more informed decisions about what they're eating. Or not.
If ever there was a "liberty" issue, this is it. We should all have the right to know what the hell we're putting into our bodies instead of trusting our corporate overlords to know what's good for us.