Happy new year, everyone! We hope you enjoy having New Year's Day off, because January 2 is going to be the start of another challenging year for the food & beverage industry.
But aren't they all?
In many ways, there's more optimism and fewer impediments than we've seen in the past couple of economically challenged years. But 2013 brings a new set of challenges, some the result of a return to growth – plus some perennial ones.
Late last year, we surveyed our editorial advisory board and some other trusted confidantes and consultants in the food & beverage industry to come up with a list of top issues for the new year. We boiled those suggestions down to the following five, although we're sure you have plenty more to worry about.
While that's a handy and recognizable acronym for genetically modified organisms, better terms are genetically modified food or genetically engineered food or ingredients. The subject is either the logical evolution of food science or the beginning of "frankenfood" – sorry, but you know that's how at least some consumers are viewing this development.
Early in 2012, we attended the Natural Product Expo in Anaheim, Calif., where guys were running around in hazmat suits to protest GMOs and petitions were circulating to get the FDA to require labeling of such ingredients. While this is a biased crowd, this is no fringe, table-top show. The 32-year-old show set records, with more than 60,000 attendees and some 2,000 exhibiting companies filling more than 1 million net sq. ft. of space. Only 18,000 attended the Institute of Food Technologists' annual Food Expo last year.
The year nearly ended with the November 6 general election, which, on the California ballot, included Proposition 37, an initiative requiring the labeling of foods and beverages sold in that state that carried genetically modified ingredients. Loud and public outcries by its supporters were met with a lower-key and highly localized information campaign by its detractors. Organic food processors were in the former camp, traditional/nonorganic processors and farmers and big agribusiness in the latter. With as many farmers as consumer activists in California, the proposition failed, although narrowly.
"This defeat has done little to slow down anti-GMO activists and the resulting pressures faced by food companies," says David Ter Molen, an attorney at the Chicago law firm Freeborn & Peters LLP. "2013 will see trends continue from last year on this hot-button topic and the rise of some new issues, including: calls for federal and state-level labeling of GMOs, boycotts and on-line protests based on demands for food ‘transparency,' lawsuits targeting ‘all natural' food products that include GMOs and the growth of products verified as non-GMO."
By the way, Mr. Ter Molen will be contributing a guest column next month on the subject.
There are plans for similar ballot initiatives in Washington, Connecticut and Vermont, and consumer groups are lobbying the FDA and even the president to weigh in. The year ended with the first media look at the long-rumored bioengineered salmon, "genetically altered by scientists who made it grow bigger and grow faster than ever before," as ABC News put it. "Behind padlocked gates and barbed wire fences in Panama grows what could be a landmark change in what we eat."
The company, Aquabounty, took an Atlantic salmon, a favorite species for diners, and added genes from a Chinook salmon and sea eel, both faster-growing species, to create a patented fish that grows to market size a full year ahead of plain Atlantic salmon. The company is awaiting FDA approval to sell and license its technology to fish farmers.