Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods

July 23rd, 2010 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods

On May 3rd there was a meeting in Quebec City to discuss international standards for food labeling. Sorry you missed it, eh? In preparation for the meeting the FDA and USDA put together a written draft in which they wrote, “that requiring labels indicating that a food has genetically modified ingredients would be false, misleading or deceptive as it is likely to create the impression that the labeled food is in some way different.” No need to go back and re-read that quote, you read it correctly. That is the new official position put forth by the USDA on Genetically Engineered (GE) foods. They believe that there is no proven difference between GE foods and whole foods. The European Union (EU) on the other hand, has had GE Food labeling laws since 1997.

The current labeling policy for GE foods as put forth by the FDA requires labeling of GE foods if the food has a significantly different nutritional property; if a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present (e.g., a peanut protein in a soybean product); or if a food contains a toxicant beyond acceptable limits. Mandatory labeling of GE foods in the United States has been proposed and bills requiring mandatory labeling have been introduced in Congress, but as of today, nothing is officially required.

Making it all just a little more interesting, in March of this year, former Monsanto lobbyist and GE advocate Islam Siddiqui was appointed to the Office of the United States Trade Representative as the country’s chief agricultural negotiator. Gee, I wonder what his thoughts are on the issue? Here is Monsanto’s current position on the matter, ” Requiring labeling for ingredients that don’t pose a health issue would undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence. Ensuring that such labeling is accurate would also put a huge burden on regulatory agencies.”

It looks like if the government’s position takes hold, companies that are currently labeling their food as GM-free will not be able to continue this practice. Such a position clearly favors those who support GE products. The big concern for GE advocates is that if there is a labeling law, then consumers are less likely to buy the product, and retailers are less likely therefore to carry the food in the first place. Exactly! And by the way, current GE labeling is most frequently seen in natural foods stores. This makes sense as those carrying organic foods want to be very clear with their customers that there are no GE products in their stores. Even though by law organic foods cannot contain GMO’s, consumers are still concerned, particularly with the healthy dose of misinformation that is out there.

Consumers have a right to know what they are putting into their bodies and this means having the right to know how their food was grown and whether or not it was produced with GMO’s.