ARLINGTON, Va. — As the Grocery Manufacturers Association anticipates the start of its annual Executive Conference this weekend in Colorado Springs, its collective eye is looking farther west, to California, where it will engage in a major election battle this fall.
The battle involves whether manufacturers will be required to indicate on their packaging if a product contains genetically modified organisms — Proposition 37 on California’s November ballot.
Pamela G. Bailey (right), president and chief executive officer of GMA, said the defeat of Proposition 37 is one of GMA’s top priorities.
“It’s an unnecessary, costly and ill-conceived ballot proposition,” she told SN. “If passed, the measure would ban the sale of tens of thousands of safe products in California unless they are specially repackaged and relabeled for sale in the state.
“This is a poorly written measure that would mandate that food producers provide misleading and confusing information to consumers. In addition, it would unnecessarily increase food costs for California consumers and increase frivolous lawsuits against businesses while adding new costs for California taxpayers.”
Bailey said the Food and Drug Administration has determined products containing GMOs are not materially different from their conventional counterparts.
“GMA agrees that labeling information should be reserved for important food safety and/or nutrition information,” she said, “and we are part of a large coalition of family farmers, doctors, scientists, food producers, grocers, small business, labor and taxpayer groups committed to defeating it.”
The Executive Conference is scheduled to include a session Sunday on the industry’s efforts to defeat the measure, featuring J.P. Bilbrey (left), president and CEO of The Hershey Co., and Louis Finkel, GMA’s executive vice president, government affairs.
According to the GMA program, Proposition 37 “was pushed by a passionate group of activists, non-governmental organizations and organic food manufacturers.”
A poll released Aug. 2 by Pepperdine University and the California Business Roundtable indicated that 69.4% of respondents to an Internet survey said they would vote in favor of Proposition 37, while 21.8% said they would vote against it, with 8.9% undecided. The poll represented responses from 873 likely voters.
Food Safety, Facts Up Front
Besides the defeat of the California initiative, Bailey cited two other priorities for GMA this year: the implementation of both the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Facts Up Front nutritional labeling initiative.
“The FDA is in the process of developing approximately 50 regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act,” she said, “and GMA is playing an important role in that process by sharing industry insights and best practices in an effort to help shape those regulations, which will strengthen our nation’s food safety net and better serve consumers.”
The Facts Up Front program — formerly called Nutrition Keys — was developed in partnership with Food Marketing Institute in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s challenge for the industry to provide consumers with more nutritional information.
“The program provides busy consumers, especially parents, with the information they need to make informed decisions when they shop,” Bailey explained.
Read more: Nutrition Keys Is Now Facts Up Front
The Facts Up Front icon already appears on thousands of products, she noted, “and we are making plans to launch the consumer education component of the program in 2013, which will build awareness and help consumers build healthier diets.”
The Executive Conference, which is scheduled to start Saturday, will be the last independent GMA Executive Conference. The meeting will become part of FMI’s Midwinter Conference in January.
According to Bailey, interest among members to attend this year’s conference is “as strong as ever, and the registration numbers reflect that.”
Although GMA will combine its meeting with FMI, several elements of the Executive Conference will remain, she pointed out, including the chairman’s lecture, the Hall of Achievement Award presentation and the Chairman’s Dinner with retail executives — all scheduled for the Saturday before FMI Midwinter kicks off.
GMA will also hold its Trading Partner Alliance meeting at the midwinter event, along with its board, council and committee meetings, she noted. TPA is a joint industry leadership group formed by GMA and FMI in 2009 to develop a shared agenda on policy, growth and supply-chain issues of mutual concern.
“To expand and build on our strong foundation of manufacturer and retail collaboration, we have also created the GMA Executive Leadership series, which will begin next July in Washington, D.C., and feature a joint public policy conference and advocacy fly-in with FMI and other industry partners,” Bailey said.
GMA will also sponsor a new conference, beginning in the fall of 2013, called Collaborating for Growth “to advance our shared public policy and growth agenda,” she added.
In addition, GMA is working very actively to reduce its members’ impact on the environment, Bailey pointed out. “The GMA-FMI Sustainability Conference in October serves as a forum at which companies can acquire tools, contacts and innovative solutions to help take their own sustainability initiatives to the next level,” she said.
“CPG companies have already achieved dramatic improvements in packaging recycling and recovery, eliminating 1.5 billion pounds of packaging waste since 2005, with another 2.5 billion pounds expected to be eliminated by 2020.
“We’re also working with FMI, the National Restaurant Association and other groups to assess the sources and causes of food waste so we can identify the most effective ways to reduce it.
“In addition, we’re working with consumer-facing groups like Curbside Value Partnership and Recyclebank to better understand consumer behavior about recycling, so we can optimize consumer education and improve access to recycling.
“GMA has also sponsored new research to evaluate the effectiveness of several waste recovery and recycling options, which is scheduled for release this fall; and we’re pursuing policy solutions to remove barriers to increased recycling and recovery rates.”
Bailey said GMA is also working with retailers “on a new vision for harnessing and efficiently using the wealth of consumer insight data; and improving the Rapid Recall Exchange, which streamlines product recalls.”
Read more: GMA, FMI to Co-locate Executive Events
Asked about the implications of the drought on GMA members, Bailey said the association is working to limit the impact on consumers.
“This drought is the most severe the U.S. has experienced in the last 50 years, and it is negatively impacting the yields of many crops, with the most devastating effects on soybeans and corn. While GMA member companies are committed to delivering safe, nutritious food at affordable prices, consumers will feel the effects of these higher input costs at retail.”
To alleviate some of the drought’s impact at the consumer level, Bailey said GMA is working with other groups asking the Environmental Protection Agency to waive a requirement that U.S. refineries must use prescribed amounts of corn every year for ethanol, “which will amount to 4.7 billion bushels this year, or approximately 40% of the crop.
GMA Executive Conference Highlights
Saturday, Aug. 25
• 6-7 p.m. — Welcome Reception Lakeside Terrace, Broadmoor Main Building
Sunday, Aug. 26
• 1:30-2:30 p.m. — Signature Sessions: Anti-Counterfeiting Strategies, Broadmoor Hall C
• 1:30-2:30 p.m. — Signature Sessions: Shopping in the Age of Mobile, Broadmoor Hall F
• 3-4 p.m. — Signature Sessions: Calif. GMO Initiative; Broadmoor Hall DE
• 6-9:30 p.m. — Chairman’s Reception, Dinner and Hall of Achievement Awards
Monday, Aug. 27
• 9:15-10:15 a.m. — “Coffee With” sessions
• 10:45-12 noon — Strategic Issues Sessions
• 2:15-3:30 p.m. — Executive Leadership Sessions
• 6-10 p.m. — President’s Reception and Dinner
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