Four of the largest food companies have combined forces to form a new advocacy association. Donone North America; Mars, Incorporated; Nestle USA; and Unilever United States have formed the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance. The Alliance seeks to be at the forefront of policies shaping how Americans eat and the impact food has on our health.
The companies will prioritize advocacy in five key areas: consumer transparency, environment, food safety, nutrition, and people and communities. Two important policy areas the Alliance will engage include nutrition labeling and carbon emissions. The companies also want to influence the Farm Bill debate by lobbying for water quality and conservation, improving soil health, and expanding renewable energy, particularly wind and solar. Also, climate change….lots of climate change.
In a joint statement released by the Alliance, the company presidents said:
The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance was founded on the principle that food companies can and should be doing more to lead and drive positive action for the people who buy and enjoy the foods and beverages we make, the people who supply them, and the planet on which we all rely.
As an Alliance, we commit first and foremost to leading by example. Each member company has independently proven a willingness to advocate for the long-term interests of the people who farm and supply our raw materials, and people who make and consume our products.
We are committed to a collaborative approach and to listen and learn about issues affecting all parts of our food system from the field to the store shelf and beyond. We understand that we don’t have all the answers and will rely on the best available evidence-based science to inform our positions. We will be transparent about how we reach our decisions and what we hope to achieve.
With so many pressing food policy opportunities on the horizon, now is the time to help steer America’s food policy and our food system on a better path for long-term success.
Interestingly, these are the same companies that recently pulled out of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). Politico reports that the reasons for departing GMA were vague, but followed disagreements between the companies and GMA over food policy. Notably, GMA took an aggressive stance against GMO labeling, which didn’t sit well with these members. Other contentious issues were labeling of added sugars and voluntary reductions in sodium. GMA was one of the biggest lobbying associations on food policy until it recently experienced deep divisions among its members.
So, what does this mean for agriculture?
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with the Alliance, its policy goals, or its key areas. Actually, if the Alliance lives up to its press release, it could be really beneficial for farming. Farmers care about soil, water, and the climate too. We care about people, nutrition, and our communities too. We care about food safety too. Having another organization supporting farmers and out interests is never a bad thing.
But those advocacy areas are rather vague and definitions can vary.
I’m mostly concerned because these are the companies that broke with GMA. Until recently, GMA was a powerhouse lobbying group that generally sided with agriculture interests. The splintering of GMA is worrisome. The formation of this Alliance worries me even more. These aren’t newbies; they understand the game. They have marketing gurus and lobbyists already in place. As four of the largest food companies, they also have a lot of cash. Without other members of GMA reigning them in, it’ll be interesting to see how far they diverge in policy and politics.
That being said, the issue that caused so much havoc at GMA was GMO labeling. With the USDA now formulating a national bioengineered labeling standard, the issue is moot. But the Alliance made sure to include a statement about it on their website. It states:
We are confident that currently approved gene-based technologies for food production are safe. We also believe that as food companies, we play a critical role in improving the quality and accessibility of information available to consumers about how their food is made so that they can make the most informed decisions for themselves and their families.
So, was this a dig at GMA? An offering to consumer groups? An olive branch to farmers? Who knows.
Time will tell. For now, I’m crossing my fingers that the Alliance will find ways to partner with farmers, listen to consumers, and advocate for sensible policy.