ORLANDO, Fla. – Connie Tipton, president and chief executive officer of the International Dairy Foods Association, urged food and beverage manufacturers to not rest on their laurels following the defeat of Proposition 37, legislation that would have required the labeling of bioengineered foods sold in California, this past November. Tipton spoke Jan. 28 at the IDFA’s annual Dairy Forum meeting.

“The drumbeat for GMO [genetically modified organism] labeling is as loud as ever and proponents are taking their show on the road,” she said. “They are training their eyes on other states, such as Washington, Vermont, New Mexico, Connecticut and Rhode Island and even cities to pursue similar ballot initiatives. Moreover, they learned from their mistakes. We anticipate that these new initiatives will be better written with a better ground game to push them forward.”

Tipton added not just legislative initiatives may propel the call for bioengineered labeling efforts.
“How about mega big-box retailer Wal-Mart?” she said. “It announced this past summer it planned to sell a new crop of genetically modified sweet corn created by Monsanto. Nothing wrong with that, but a lot of us were scratching our heads when Wal-Mart added that it would label the product as containing GMO ingredients – even though the Food and Drug Administration has already said the product is safe. Given Wal-Mart’s size and market share, there are legitimate concerns that its decision on GMO labeling will force other retailers to march in lockstep behind the industry giant.

“And in another stunner, Kaiser Permanente warned its members in a recent newsletter about the dangers of GMOs,” she added. “While the biotech industry adamantly denies the validity of the studies the newsletter cited, Kaiser nevertheless recommended that consumers buy organic food, download the ShopNoGMO app and look for labels that say products are GMO-free.”

Tipton said the food and beverage industry may promote the positive aspects of biotechnology and its role in feeding a growing world population in a sustainable manner.

“The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization predicts global food production will have to increase by 70 percent by the year 2050 to feed an additional 2.2 billion hungry mouths,” she said. “Although not a solution in and of themselves, GMO crops can certainly play an important role in the war against world hunger. The anti-GMO zealots need to get off their high horses and see what the rest of the world really looks like from the ground up.

“So what is the takeaway on GMO labeling? Technology can help marry innovation to new products, but consumers might ask for a divorce if they perceive threats instead of benefits,” she concluded.