Published on: May 15, 2014
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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy, reporting in this week from Portland, Oregon, which is why I've spent most of the week with a smile on my face.
I came here to moderate a couple of panel discussions at the Portland State University (PSU) Center for Retail Excellence Executive Forum, one of them on the subject of GMOs. And based on that conversation, and various discussions I've had with retailers and manufacturers, I think I have the solution to the GMO labeling issue. It has the advantage of probably not making everybody happy, which is probably all one can ask of a solution for such a contentious issue.
First of all, I'd label everything. Every packaged food product would have, as part of its nutrition panel, the words "contains GMOs" or "no GMOs." We can negotiate the font size, but this way we avoid the debate about which way makes more sense … and the people who want to know will have the information will have their way, and the people who don't care…well it won't matter.
There would be no labels required on the front of packaging, though of course companies would be free to use them if they wished. But the required labels would fall into the category of information, not condemnation, not demonization. They are there for people to look at if they want to, and if they want more information, it is up to them to get it.
This would be a federal standard. It is the only way to avoid the patchwork of regulations that multiple states could pass, which would create enormous problems for manufacturers and consumers.
This means that the food industry is off the hook - it cannot be accused of obfuscation. Bt the way, a lot of retailers tell me that they think this approach is inevitable, and that they think that if things continue to go in the direction they currently are, this will be an issue on which retailers and manufacturers will have to part company. Plus, I think that there has to be a tipping point…a number of states that, having passed individual laws, will force the federal government to act and manufacturers to acquiesce. That number may be 20, it could be 12, or it could be seven. But there's a number…and don't think for a moment that it doesn't scare the hell out of manufacturers and biotech companies.
Now, this won't be an easy pill for some manufacturers to swallow. But if the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the biotech companies spent as much time and money lobbying for a consistent federal standard as they do fighting state-by-state proposals, this issue would have been put to bed a long time ago. They need to wake up to the idea that we live in an information-driven society, and hiding it makes no sense at all. in fact, in the long run it hurts you.
Of course, we all know that if manufacturers and biotech companies are going to support a federal mandate, they'd rather have a law saying that states can't pass their own laws. because they think that this is a winning strategy. Here's what they'll propose next, if I had to bet … a federal law that says if someone wants to sue either a manufacturer or a biotech company because of the affects of a GMO, they'll have to do it within five years of the original consumption of the GMO. Because to them, that's the kind of federal law that would make sense.
My idea is for simple labels that don't demonize anything … but just give consumers - most of whom have not nearly enough scientific background to be able to tell what most of these scientists are talking about - basic information about GMOs. Which is what they seem to want. By the way, either one of those labels will give shoppers confidence that the manufacturer knows its supply chain, which I think is a good thing.
Finally, I don't want to hear any whining about how hard, costly and time consuming it is to change labels. Because here's the deal. If scientists discovered tomorrow that XYZ compound, which happens to already be in 60 percent of all packaged food products, happened to help people's sex lives, CPG manufacturers would find away to slap new labels on all affected products in about 48 hours.
Because that's what they do when they think it is good for business.
Consumer have to persuade food manufacturers and the biotech companies that wanting information is not the same as being anti-science. It is just wanting information. At the same time, trying to suppress basic information that consumers want? Well, I think we have to make clear to them that it is bad for business.
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to know what is on your mind.
- KC's View: