FDA Law Update
Comment Period to Close On Petition to FDA for Mandatory Labeling of All Foods Produced Using Genetic Engineering
By Robert Uram
On March 27, 2012, the comment period will close on a petition filed by the Center for Food Safety that calls for the FDA to issue new regulations requiring labeling of all foods produced using genetic engineering (GE). Docket No. FDA-2011-P-0723 (Filed October 12, 2011). Unlike many other developed countries – such as 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and even China – the U.S. has no laws requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Nearly one million individuals, more than 500 partner organizations representing the healthcare community, consumer advocates, farmers, concerned parents, environmentalists, food and farming organizations, businesses and 55 members of Congress and many more concerned with protecting the consumer’s right to know have joined together in support of the FDA petition and the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.
A recent letter by 55 members of Congress explains:
At issue is the fundamental right consumers have to make informed choices about the food they eat…The agency currently requires over 3,000 other ingredients, additives, and processes to be labeled; providing basic information doesn’t confuse the public, it empowers them to make choices. Absent labeling, Americans are unable to choose for themselves whether to purchase GE foods…. We urge you to fully review the facts, law, and science, and side with the American public by requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods as is done in nearly 50 countries throughout the world.
According to Justlabelit.org, studies show that more than 90 percent of the population support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Why Are GE Foods Not Labeled?
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires the FDA to prevent consumer deception by clarifying that a food label is misleading if it omits significant “material” information. In 1992 the FDA issued a policy statement that defined “material” as the ability to be sensed by taste, smell, or other senses. The FDA determined that GE Foods were “substantially equivalent” to conventionally produced foods, so there was no material difference – and no labeling was required. After almost 20 years, this policy is still in effect today.
The petition calls for the FDA to:
- Issue new regulations requiring labeling of all foods produced using genetic engineering.
- Change the way it defines “material” to a change in food at the atomic, molecular or genetic level that a significant share of consumers would find relevant to their purchasing decisions; and/or
- Issue new regulations requiring labeling of all transgenic food because it always results in novel DNA and proteins never before present in the foods, and which consumers would not expect.
The issue has attracted significant press attention and is being closely watched. Use of GE products have also raised significant environmental and economic issues. Further information on the petition can be found at http://justlabelit.org/about-just-label-it/.