U.S. divisions of Danone, Mars, Nestlé, and Unilever, four of the largest food companies in the world, said on Thursday that they've started their own food lobby in order to push progressive new food policies as the market continues to shift toward transparency, clean ingredients, and sustainability.
The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance comes as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the lobby group for the industry for more than 100 years, has lost nearly a dozen major members including Mars, Nestlé, and Unilever in the last year. Most of the departures came over differences the LA Times calls "high-profile philosophical disagreements." Nestlé had issues with the GMA's position on nutrition labels and how things like sodium and added sugar content should be presented as consumers seek healthier and more transparently labeled food.
The Sustainable Food Policy is poised to foster significant change with its four founding members, who combined generate an annual revenue of more than $200 billion.
"We truly believe consumers want this, and they vote with every purchase," said Mariano Lozano, chief executive of Danone North America. "We are reaching a moment when what makes business sense and what is the right thing to do come together."
The new lobby group is expected to use its platform in five policy areas, the Times notes product transparency, nutrition, the environment, food safety, and a positive workplace for food and agriculture workers. It will also work with the FDA on new Nutrition Facts panels to ensure prominent labeling for added sugar and total calorie intake, as well as support for reduced sodium levels.
The GMA had voiced criticism over the added sugar label change despite supporting updates to the Nutrition Facts. "The group later petitioned the FDA to delay the rollout of the labels, over the vocal protests of Mars and several other member companies that had already begun using them," the Times reports.
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The Sustainable Food Policy isn't the first lobby group to spin-off from the GMA. In 2016, the Plant Based Foods Association launched to support the emergent vegan, nondairy, and plant-based industry. Last year after Campbell's announced it had left the GMA, it surprised the food world when it became the first major food company to join the PBFA.
"It's a positive sign that four of the largest food companies in the U.S. recognize we need a new way forward," said Michele Simon, executive director of the PBFA. "I think it's responsive to the shift in consumer interests in a way the old guard of Big Food hasn't been."
The new group says it will push agendas on water quality and soil health as well as renewable energy and efforts to reduce emissions in its supply chains. "The four companies have already petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency together, urging it to maintain the Clean Power Plan and its goal to slash carbon pollution," reports the Times.
"Food companies can and should be doing more to lead and drive positive policy action," the group said in a statement, "for the people who buy and enjoy the foods and beverages we make, the people who supply them, and the planet on which we all rely."
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