NPA's GMO labeling stance headlines annual lobbying day

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

NPA members on Capitol Hill.
NPA members on Capitol Hill.

Related tags: Npa executive director, Dietary supplement

The Natural Products Association’s newly announced stance on GMO labeling was the biggest attention getter as members spoke with members of Congress during the organization’s annual lobbying event Tuesday.

In its new stance, NPA has come out in support of a national law requiring the labeling of GMO ingredients.

“We firmly believe everybody has the right to know what they put in their bodies,”​ said NPA executive director John Shaw. “We feel that if we have 50 state laws (on GMO labeling), that would be a patchwork that would be damaging for industry.”

Thumbs down on bounty hunters

Shaw said NPA’s support of such a move includes the caveat that such a measure should not include a private enforcement (or “bounty hunter”) provision.  It was just a clause in California’s Prop 37 (defeated by votes in Novembers) that led a number of industry groups to oppose it, fearing it would give rise to a Prop 65-like field day for class action law firms.  And at least one of the state GMO labeling initiatives currently making their way through state legislatures—Washington’s I522—contains a private enforcement clause.

Private enforcement advocates say the concept gives citizens groups an opportunity to make sure measures they feel strongly about in cases where government agencies lack the fortitude or funding to enforce the laws. The conclusion of a long standing lawsuit over vitamin C price fixing by several Chinese companies was cited as an example of successful private enforcement.  The US Justice Department had been given evidence of the price fixing activity but declined to move on it.

Shaw disagrees that private enforcement is necessary for a good GMO labeling law, and in any case, it’s not something NPA members could support.

"We cannot support third party lawsuits,”​ Shaw told NutraIngredients-USA.

Who then should enforce the measure?  Isn’t FDA already running up against funding constraints in carrying out its existing mandates?

“We support a fully funded FDA,”​ Shaw said. “But it is a labeling issue.  It doesn’t necessarily fall under FDA.  It could be FTC.”

The event, titled Natural Products Day, featured a briefing on issues by Cara Welch, NPA’s vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs and a session on how to be effective advocate by expert Stephaine Vance. Then it was off to Capitol Hill, where about 50 members had meetings in the offices of 91 lawmakers.  The meetings including presenting awards to longtime industry supporters such as Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ.  But also on the list were opponents such as Senators Dick Durbin, D-IL and Richard Blumenthal, D-CN.

Bowels of government

Figuratively driving the bus was Shaw.  This was Shaw’s first such event with the organization, though, as he’s fond of pointing out, hardly his first rodeo.  One of the things Shaw brings to the organization is his long experience on Capitol Hill, where he says he started working as an intern at age 18.

Shaw demonstrated his familiarity with the surroundings by taking a brace of reporters on a whirlwind tour of the literal bowels of government as he shuttled back and forth to meetings via the tunnels and trams under the Capitol building.

Also on the agenda for those meetings was reminding members of the threat posed by Sen. Durbin.  One of the talking points the NPA gave to it members including a discussion the Durbin’s 2011 Dietary Supplement Labeling Act, which would impose redundant and coercive burdens on industry, the organization said.  Members of Congress were being asked to oppose its reintroduction (news reports today said that Durbin was seeking Republican support for this) and were educated on Durbin’s steady opposition to the industry, and asked to be on the lookout for anti-industry moved coming from Durbin’s office that could come in the form of amendments to otherwise innocuous spending bills.  And, meetings also included a request that members consider jointing the Dietary Supplement Caucus.

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