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GMA Turns 100: What's Changed, and What Hasn't

GMA Turns 100: What's Changed, and What Hasn't

It's always noteworthy when a major organization reaches 100 years old. Even more remarkable is when that organization can look back on a century of leadership in U.S. business and political activities, as is the case with Grocery Manufacturers Association, the champion of branded products suppliers. GMA was a key player in supporting U.S. government efforts to battle the Great Depression, two world wars and other challenges over the years.

In this issue, SN profiles GMA's history and its future plans, with stories that begin on Page 14.

So what's changed, and what hasn't, during GMA's century?

First, the organization itself has been transformed. It still represents the interests of branded manufacturers, and some of the key issues are similar to those of concern in 1908, when 60 suppliers founded GMA's original entity, the American Specialty Manufacturers Association. But the association has evolved along with the industry it represents. At the beginning of the last century, branded products were relatively new and faced acceptance challenges. The association operated on a small budget and without a full-time director. Today, brands are firmly established, and GMA is a large, powerful group that represents a major U.S. business sector and is overseen by Cal Dooley, president and CEO. GMA expanded its reach last year by merging with Food Products Association, which boosted the organization's scientific expertise and increased the opportunities for educational programs.

GMA's agenda has changed over the years, but some issues keep returning to the forefront. One of those is food safety, which helped spark the association's formation in the first place. Many of its founders collaborated in 1906 to endorse the Pure Food and Drug Act, which was aimed at eliminating the sale of adulterated foods. It was in the same year that author and socialist Upton Sinclair published his groundbreaking novel “The Jungle,” which focused on corruption, low wages and safety concerns in the meatpacking industry.

Food safety continues to be an important topic, although the nature of the challenge is different. Today, imports of global products have raised safety fears, and GMA is advocating a public-private partnership to tackle these concerns, including more resources for the FDA and new safety standards for suppliers.

GMA's commitment to public policy hasn't changed since its founding, but the approach has shifted as government power centers moved. Earlier in its history, GMA's advocacy was centered on Congress and federal regulatory agencies. More recently, the association strives to keep up with the growing influence of state and municipal governments, which are increasingly pursuing measures that impact the food industry. GMA is opening field offices around the country and putting more effort into local politics.

GMA has a storied history, but it can't afford to rest on its branded laurels. There's too much work to be done, both on long-standing issues, and on topics that weren't even contemplated in 1908, such as sustainability, biotech and functional foods. The challenges ahead are so complex that it could take the next 100 years to fully tackle them.