The food industry’s most powerful lobbying group, the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), has a new rival in efforts to influence lawmakers. Four companies, Danone, Mars, Unilever and Nestlé, have joined forces to form their own trade association – the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance (SFPA).
The name those four mega-companies have chosen to christen their new alliance tells you much of what you need to know about their mission. They plan to champion foods they determine are “sustainable” and “healthy.” If that gives you pause, it should. Increasingly, food policy is being driven by companies lobbying for government endorsement of their marketing claims.
The spat between GMA and the four companies launching the SFPA began last year when Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, announced it was leaving GMA. The company indicated it had disagreements about how to respond to changing consumer tastes and desires. The buzz surrounding the GMA dropouts was that they disagreed with GMA over nutrition issues, GMO labeling and voluntary sodium reduction.
Campbell Soup Co. actually left GMA months before Nestlé, in a rift over the fact GMA fought hard against mandatory GMO labeling of foods. Campbell, maker of Goldfish crackers and V8 juices, had decided it was futile to oppose GMO labeling, and instead embraced the idea, believing consumers would reward their transparency.
The new SFPA says it will lobby for government agencies to define what is healthy based on “strong, science-based regulations on how these terms can be used on food packages and in marketing. The updates will help consumers make better choices for themselves and their families,” the companies said in a joint statement.
The Alliance member companies will focus in five key areas:
- Consumer transparency: Improving the quality and accessibility of information available to consumers about the food they purchase for themselves and their families.
- Environment: Advocating for innovative, science-based solutions to take action against the costly impacts of climate change, build more resilient communities, promote renewable energy and further develop sustainable agriculture systems.
- Food safety: Ensuring the quality and safety of food products and the global supply chain.
- Nutrition: Developing and advocating for policies that help people make better-informed food choices that contribute to healthy eating while supporting sustainable environmental practices.
- People and communities: Advancing policies that promote a strong, diverse and healthy workplace and support the supply chain, including rural economies.
Food industry analysts say the splintering of GMA is driven by the fact many traditional brands are stagnating as millennials seek “healthier,” more “transparent” products.
Additionally, SFPA says advocating for environmental policies will be a priority. They will seek to ensure the farm bill addresses water and soil quality and expanding renewable energy. SFPA will also support financial incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Power Plan and Paris Climate Accord.
Food companies “can and should be doing more to lead and drive policy action,” SFPA said. "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."
The formation of SFPA is a seismic shift in the food industry. These four companies had combined revenue of $200 billion last year, and they’re likely to devote substantial resources to lobbying efforts that make food attributes such as “sustainable” and “environmentally friendly” more relevant to consumers.
The following commentary does not necessarily reflect the views AgWeb or Farm Journal. The opinions expressed below are the author's own.