Farmers of crops, such as beet sugar, are fighting the big food companies as they lobby the US government over plans to label genetically engineered ingredients. The issue turns on transparency over ingredients used in food products.
Packaged foods makers are facing growing concerns over consumer trust and stagnating demand for some core products as consumers opt for foods with simpler ingredient lists. Many food companies want the government to require manufacturers to include on labels all ingredients that have been genetically modified, known as GMO. However, the farmers want the labels to exclude ingredients that have been so refined and processed that they no longer contain any trace of the transformed genes when they are used for food. Nestle, the world’s largest food maker, and rivals including The Hershey Company and Unilever, want the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to include on the label ingredients from crops that were genetically modified such as canola and soybean oils and sugar from beets. The USDA had asked for feedback on a proposal for required labelling of genetically engineered ingredients after a battle over the issue in states including Vermont which has spurred the US Congress to pass legislation. The USDA has proposed a plan for applying the law, and is mulling over public comment now the July 3 deadline passed.
Farmers are arguing the fact that the ingredients no longer contain transformed genes by the time they make their way into chocolates, pasta sauce and cereal should mean they are excluded from the labeling. Luther Markwart, head of the American Sugar Beets Association in Washington, said ‘The law has been very clear that the required disclosure is going to be for those crops or ingredients that contain the genetic material.’ He added, ‘for things like sugar and other refined products that don’t contain the genetic material, the law does not apply to us.’ The big food companies argue that consumers want transparency over what is in their food and beverages, and highly refined ingredients should fall under the requirements. The Grocery Manufacturers Association state that excluding refined ingredients would result in 78 percent fewer products being disclosed under the federal law. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, agrees with the farmers that their finished ingredients are no different scientifically from their non-GMO counterparts, but said the products should still require labelling.