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The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group that represents the nation’s largest food brands, is behind a complicated move that supports GMO labeling.

To the concerned consumer, this sounds like a good thing. But it’s complicated for several reasons. The most notable issue lies in the fact that the GMA was behind two aggressive campaigns to defeat state ballot initiatives in Washington and California that were favored to win due to the overwhelming number of Americans who say they want to see transparency in their food labeling, particularly when it comes to genetically modified ingredients.

But the GMA, which includes members like Coca-Cola and General Mills, donated tens of millions of dollars to defeat the labeling bills. The anti-labeling campaigns suggested that consumers would end up paying more for their groceries if the state labeling campaigns were successful.

So, if the GMA voted against labeling GMOs on the state level, why would it now choose to support a labeling bill?

The organization is now part of a consortium that includes 28 groups representing farmers, seed companies and other areas of food production, have written an open acknowledgment about the concerns over GMOs.

According to NPR, “the move represents the industry’s attempt to try to pre-empt any future state ballot initiatives, which could turn as messy and costly as what played out in California and Washington. And the coalition admitted as much.”

In a teleconference, Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the GMA, said: “The [Food and Drug Association] up to now has said that GMOs are safe, but we also recognize that some consumers want more information and companies might want to include GMO information, so we are asking the FDA to outline labeling standards companies can use voluntarily.”

The group claims that the California and Washington ballot initiatives put out “enormous misinformation” about GMOs. “The results[…]really compelled us and 28 other groups to step forward and say, ‘Enough is enough. We need some help.’”

But the caveat here is that the “voluntary” federal labeling bill would essentially prevent states from being able to pass mandatory label laws that could be more stringent. “In other words,” reports NPR, “the industry groups would like to crush any possibility of mandatory labels and instead create a more relaxed system in which companies that want to label can, and companies that don’t will never have to.”

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Stephenie Shuckraft