by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: GMA(Grocery Manufacturers Association)

Aug 1 2018

What should we think about the food industry’s new Sustainable Food Policy Alliance holds promise?

Danone North America, Mars Inc, Nestlé USA (no relation), and Unilever US have left the Grocery Manufacturers Association to form a new organization, the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance.

Its stated purpose (as explained in the press release):

  • Consumer Transparency: Improving the quality and accessibility of information available to consumers about the food they purchase for themselves and their families.
  • Environment: Advocating for innovative, science-based solutions to take action against the costly impacts of climate change, build more resilient communities, promote renewable energy, and further develop sustainable agriculture systems.
  • Food Safety: Ensuring the quality and safety of food products and the global supply chain.
  • Nutrition: Developing and advocating for policies that help people make better-informed food choices that contribute to healthy eating while supporting sustainable environmental practices.
  • People and Communities: Advancing policies that promote a strong, diverse, and healthy workplace and support the supply chain, including rural economies.

The Alliance says it intends to:

  • Urge policymakers to ensure the Farm Bill and other farm policies emphasize water quality and conservation issues, improved soil health, and renewable energy (particularly wind and solar).
  • Explore the economics of sustainability, including financial incentives to reduce emissions and transition to low-carbon alternatives and to create value for farmers, ranchers, and others.
  • Advocate on behalf of environmental policies at the state, national, and international levels, including the Paris Climate Agreement and Clean Power Plan.

Sounds good, no?

As I told the Washington Post, I would like

to see how the four companies address more inconvenient environmental and public health policies, such as limits on bottling water from national forests or mandated, front-of-package nutrition labeling. Those policies could potentially threaten their bottom lines — an issue Danone’s Lozano said his company did not face with its current efforts around sustainability.

Let’s give them credit for going after the low-hanging fruit first…But the real questions are what they will really do, and when.

Feb 12 2018

Defections from GMA: the score increases

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m keeping score on companies dropping their membership in and substantial financial support of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the lobbying group for decidedly consumer-unfriendly food companies.

Add the top two are new to the list since my last post.

  • The Kraft Heinz Company
  • DowDuPont
  • Hershey
  • Cargill
  • Tyson
  • Unilever
  • Mars
  • Campbell Soup
  • Nestlé (my non-namesake)
  • Dean Foods

Kraft Heinz makes Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Tang, and Lunchables, among lots of other products.  It told Politico Morning Agriculture (this may be behind a paywall):

The Kraft Heinz Company will continue to focus this year on wins for the consumer including innovating new products, using simpler and more sustainable ingredients and providing more transparency about our offerings.  We appreciate GMA’s many contributions on behalf of the industry and our consumers.

Will the defections lead to a collapse of the GMA?  Or force it to reform?  Or let it continue to limp along?  Stay tuned.

Jan 15 2018

Defections from the Grocery Manufacturers Association: adding up

Nonrenewals of membership in the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are adding up (see my previous post on this).  Helena Bottemiller Evich at Politico is keeping score (this may be behind a paywall):

  • Hershey
  • Cargill
  • Tyson
  • Unilever
  • Mars
  • Campbell Soup
  • Nestlé (my non-namesake)
  • Dean Foods

The GMA has long behaved as if the food movement doesn’t exist and its industry can continue to take consumer-unfriendly positions on food issues that the public cares about—with no consequences.

Politico quotes a spokesman for the GMA:

GMA and its board are continuing our work to build the new GMA for the future to meet the needs of long-time and new member companies and of consumers…The food industry is facing significant disruption and is evolving — and so is GMA. We all will continue to evolve and change at an even faster pace.

I have some suggestions for this evolution:

  • Listen to consumers.
  • Understand why sustainability and health are issues that matter so deeply.
  • Help food companies produce healthful, sustainable products.
  • Stop fighting measures aimed at health and sustainability.
  • Become part of the solution; stop being the problem.
Dec 21 2017

Defectors from the Grocery Manufacturers Association: the score

Politico is tracking what’s happening to the GMA.  The defectors so far:

  • Tyson Foods
  • Unilever
  • Campbell Soup Co.
  • Nestlé
  • Dean Foods
  • Mars

The GMA has consistently and persistently lobbied against consumer-friendly measures.  I guess the GMA has become too embarrassing for these corporations or too contrary to the image they want to project.

I can’t wait to see who is next.  Stay tuned.

Dec 5 2017

Defections from the Grocery Manufacturers Association: Rats leaving a sinking ship?

I’ve written many times about the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), an organization so locked into the interests of its food-company donors that you can count on it to vehemently oppose every consumer-friendly measure that gets proposed.

A couple of weeks ago, Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich and Catherine Boudreau wrote what they discovered about the unraveling of the GMA: the big Washington food fight.

The defectors so far:

  • Campbell Soup
  • Nestlé (my non-namesake)
  • Dean Foods
  • And, most recently, Mars.

Mars says:

At this time, we believe we can more effectively drive our business objectives and meaningful progress for our categories and consumers by working with other like-minded companies and through other sector-specific trade associations and collaborations.

What’s going on?  Easy.  GMA just isn’t keeping up with today’s marketplace.

Politico’s analysis (these are quotes):

  • Companies are increasingly under pressure to find growth in a market where more and more consumers are seeking healthier fare, whether they’re buying organic baby food, cereal without artificial colors or meats raised without antibiotics.
  • As legacy brands lag, food companies have two options: Change to compete or buy up the new brands that are already growing rapidly.
  • With each episode of discord, both internally and publicly, it becomes harder for GMA to convince its members to pay fees to belong to a trade group that’s rife with division and, at times, fights against issues they either don’t want fought or don’t want to be associated with.
  • “More than one food industry lobbyist has told me that they spend more time lobbying their industry association than they do Capitol Hill,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
  • Many in Washington think GMA has been tone deaf as it has, in some cases, kept up lavish spending even as its members are cutting costs and laying off workers to meet their quarterly targets.
  • “I don’t know a single challenger brand that’s said ‘hey, I need to join GMA,'” said John Foraker, the founder and former CEO of Annie’s.

My favorite quote comes from Jeff Nedelman, who was a VP of communications at GMA during the 1980s and ’90s: “To me, it looks like GMA is the dinosaur just waiting to die.”

May it rest in peace.

Jul 22 2015

House to block GMO labeling tomorrow?

Ordinarily I don’t pay close attention to early congressional legislative initiatives until they seem likely to be passed by both houses and signed by the President.

But the House seems likely to pass the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (HR 1599) tomorrow, and what’s happening with it is worth a look.  Opponents call the bill the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.”  (Update July 23: the House passed the bill with a vote of 275 for and 150 against, with the help of African-American representatives).

The purpose of HR 1599 is to block states—like Vermont, for example—from requiring labels on GMO foods [see details below at *].

How it works is best seen in the amendments that will be considered tomorrow.  Of the 14 amendments proposed, the House Rules Committee will allow discussion of these four.

  • Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore:  if a U.S. company or subsidiary labels a product as containing GMOs in any foreign country, it must label the equivalent product the same way in the United States.  (Defeated 122 to 303)
  • Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif: ensures tribal sovereignty to prohibit or restrict the cultivation of GMOs on tribal lands. (Defeated 196 to 227)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn: prohibits use of the term “natural” on GMO foods. (Defeated 163 to 262)
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine: strikes the entire bill and creates a USDA non-GMO certification program and label. (Defeated by voice vote)

In an op-ed in the Boston Globe, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jim McGovern say “Let consumers decide for themselves.”

Americans want more information, not less. What we need is one law that makes GMO labeling mandatory across the country and establishes a single national standard that eliminates confusion and puts consumers in charge.

This debate isn’t about the safety of GMOs. It’s about consumers’ right to know what’s in the food they put on their tables. We ought to give them that right.

It’s interesting to see who is for this bill, and who against. One major proponent is the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which joined 475 other members of the industry “front group,” the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, in signing a letter in support.

Those opposed include the National Organic Coalition and the Just Label It campaign.   Also opposed are Food Democracy Now and the National Farmers Union, along with a long list of farm, consumer, and environmental groups.

Even if the House passes the bill, nobody in the Senate seems interested in it as yet.  So maybe this is all just theater.

But I read it as acknowledgment by the GMO industry and its food product supporters that the labeling issue is not going to go away.  Therefore, they had best try to preempt it by passing a law they can live with and making sure that states do not pass their own, stronger bills.

Stay tuned.

*Addition: I received a request to unpack the bill and state its terms.  HR 1599:

  • Calls for premarket notification of new GMOs introduced into the food supply.
  • Says the process of GMO is not sufficient to require labeling.
  • Says non-GMO labeling cannot imply that non-GMO is safer.
  • Blocks voluntary non-GMO labeling.
  • Prevents states from requiring GMO labeling.
  • Allows the term “natural” on labels of GMO foods.
  • Establishes a non-GMO certification program requiring process controls and preemption of state laws.

Update, July 27: According to OpenSecrets.org, representatives who voted against GMO labeling received three times as much money from agribusiness as those who did not.  OpenSecrets calls this a “cash crop.”

 

 

 

Mar 4 2014

Food industry puts $50 million into another end run around the FDA

Over the weekend, Politico announced that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) were finally going to launch their long-threatened $50 million campaign to promote voluntary “Facts Up Front” labels on food packages.

In case you never noticed these labels—and I doubt most people do—here is an example:

GMA and FGI conducted their own survey.  This—no surprise—found that people love Facts Up Front labels, but I find that hard to believe.  Neither do others, according to Politico reporters.

For what $50 million will buy, see yesterday’s Washington Post, page A5 (thanks Politico).

Recall the history

Facts Up Front (formerly known as Nutrition Keys), was originally launched as an end run around what the FDA was then trying to do with front-of-package labeling initiatives.  This happened early in 2011.

The GMA/FMI ploy brought the FDA’s initiatives to a halt—despite the agency’s investment in two Institute of Medicine (IOM) studies to establish a research basis for front-of-package labels.

These, in turn, followed on the heels of the food industry’s ill-fated Smart Choices—an attempt to promote highly processed foods as healthy.

GMA/FMI’s goal was to head off any possibility that the FDA would mandate red, yellow, and green traffic light signals.

Red signals might discourage consumers from buying products made by the companies GMA and FMI represent.

The food industry had cause to worry.  The IOM was considering—and eventually published—a front-of-package scheme similar to traffic lights.  It used checks or stars to evaluate the content of calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium, and sugars, all nutrients to watch out for.

GMA/FMI got its much more complicated—and, therefore, harder to understand—Nutrition Keys out first.  This preempted the IOM recommendations.

The FDA gave up.  The two IOM reports went into a drawer and the FDA has done nothing with them.

Why is GMA/FMI doing this now?

Surely, it is no coincidence that GMA/FMI is rolling out this campaign on the heels of Let’s Move!’s triumphant release of the FDA’s new food labeling proposals.

They must be worried that the FDA will unearth the two IOM reports, adopt the IOM recommendations, and start rulemaking for front-of-package labeling.

One sign of the food industry’s strategy comes from Bruce Silverglade, who for years was head counsel for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), but has now revolved to a Washington, DC law firm that represents food companies.  He told Politico:

The general view in the industry is that nutrition information has really moved to the front of the pack. What FDA is doing is essentially proposing a new model of an old dinosaur.

As Michele Simon tweeted: “that comment…is rich coming from ex-@cspi lawyer who fought for label.”

What’s wrong with Facts Up Front? 

Plenty.

The IOM recommended that front-of-package labels be:

  • Simple: easy to understand
  • Interpretive: putting judgments in context
  • Scaled: indicating good, better, and best

Facts Up Front does none of the above.

Facts Up Front is a tool for selling, not buying.

Its purpose is to make highly processed foods look healthier, whether or not they really are.

Whether slightly better-for-you processed foods will help anyone make better food choices and be healthier remain open questions.

What should happen now?

With Let’s Move! really moving, this seems like a great time to urge the FDA to pull out those IOM reports and get busy on a front-of-package labeling method that will really help the public make healthier dietary choices.

Dec 26 2013

A post-Xmas roundup of items on GMOs

The holidays are a quiet time for food politics so I thought I catch up on some pending items, starting with GMOs.

No, tired as you may be of them, GMO issues are not going to disappear in 2014.

My prediction: labeling will come, maybe sooner rather than later, although it’s hard to say in what form.