Editor's Plate

Editor's Plate: Grocery Manufacturers Association Continues To Make Good Choices

According to Food Processing magazine's chief editor, the association's focus on the consumer will best serve its members.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

One of Food Processing's headlines a month or so back announced, Processors Push Against Voluntary Sodium Guidelines.

I guessed at what group would be at the forefront representing them. And to my pleasant surprise, I was wrong.

Associations representing several niches of food processing spoke against the initiative, which was started during the Obama administration and was continued by Scott Gottlieb, who served as President Trump's FDA commissioner until leaving office April 12. But Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) was not one of them.

At issue is whether the FDA should recommend maximum sodium levels for specific foods. The purely voluntary guidelines are expected to be published later this year. But Politico, which covers politics and policy in America, reports that trade associations including the American Bakers Association, American Frozen Food Institute, International Dairy Foods Association, North American Meat Institute and SNAC International are trying to stop or water down the initiative.

The associations said they are stepping in because they want FDA’s sodium reduction goals to be “a success.” Right! And I want you to send a check to Food Processing so your business can succeed.

When will they discover the lesson hard-learned by GMA? That fighting the consumer, that anything less than transparency, is a losing game. The previous administration at GMA would have fought the guidelines tooth and nail, claiming they were bad for food companies. To put it another way, that giving consumers what they want is bad business policy. You see the obvious irony there, but they didn't.

On the other hand, the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, composed of Nestlé, Unilever, Mars Inc. and Danone North America, has come out in favor of the voluntary sodium guidelines. By the way, all those companies quit GMA in the nadir of its dark days.

In addition to the departure of 11 of its largest member companies, those dark days led to the retirement of the longtime CEO and, apparently in a coincidence, the departure of the board's chairman. Geoff Freeman took over as CEO last August and immediately began talking of a new day, a "next chapter," and espousing consumer-friendly initiatives.

On its home page, the association lists four "strategic priorities." Half of them are "champion smart regulation" and "build trust in consumer packaged goods."

Further back in its website, under News, is this headline: "GMA Urges USDA to Require Disclosure of Refined Ingredients Under Bioengineered Disclosure Standard." This is the same GMA that a court found violated Washington state’s campaign-finance laws by shielding the names of companies that contributed to an $11 million campaign to defeat a 2013 ballot initiative to label foods with genetically engineered ingredients.

Obviously not the same GMA. And that's a good thing.

But even the best-intentioned association executive can get trampled by his board of directors. General Mills' Jeff Harmening was just elected GMA chairman in May. I've met him a couple of times, and he seems like a good guy. I hope he supports Freeman in turning around this valuable institution.