Consumer Brands leader calls for slowing down GMO labeling

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, today, Oct. 6, urged the Biden administration to slow down implementation of the labeling of genetically modified foods scheduled for December and to pause other regulatory changes to help companies deal with the strain on supply chains amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would like to see a greater degree of urgency in Washington” about the supply chain “crisis,” Freeman said while participating in a panel discussion on the consumer landscape post-COVID at the Consumer Federation of America National Food Policy Conference.

The battle over labeling genetically modified foods tore apart the Consumer Brands Association’s predecessor organization, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, with some member companies supporting labeling and others not. To stop states from passing their own laws on the labeling of genetically modified foods, Congress in 2016 passed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law, which directed USDA to establish this national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are or may be bioengineered, another term for genetically modified.

Then-Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard in 2018. The implementation date for the standard was Jan. 1, 2020, except for small food manufacturers, whose implementation date was Jan. 1, 2021. The mandatory compliance date is Jan. 1, 2022. Regulated entities may voluntarily comply with the standard until Dec. 31, 2021.

Some companies fear that consumers will not buy products that are labeled for containing bioengineered ingredients. Freeman said that companies are having a lot of problems sourcing non-bioengineered products. “Now is not the right time” to require the labels, he said.

Freeman said that food companies’ ability to provide products during the pandemic has been “an amazing accomplishment” but that the pressures on the supply chains at present are worse, including the cost of ingredients and the lack of labor. A month after the government stopped higher level unemployment benefits, the labor situation has not improved, he added.

“The jury is out” on whether the changes to the workforce are permanent, he said. Every industry, he noted, is facing labor shortages. It is unclear, he added, whether workers are going into “the gig economy” or just not working. The situation is particularly difficult in rural America where there are fewer workers and less immigration, he said.

One of the weaknesses of the United States, Freeman said, is the lack of a centralized view on the supply chain issues. The Consumer Brands Association has called for a supply chain office in the White House, but an office to be created down the road will not solve today’s problems, he said.


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