The federal government on Thursday issued new guidelines for the voluntary labeling of genetically modified foods, outlining what food manufacturers should and should not say.
“Both the presence and absence of information are relevant to whether labeling is misleading,” said the Food and Drug Administration, which stressed simple, straightforward, science-based statements about the presence—or absence—of GM ingredients.
“In general, an accurate statement about whether a food was not produced using bioengineering is one that provides information in a context that clearly refers to bioengineering technology,” the FDA said. According to the agency, examples of such statements might be “not bioengineered,” “our corn growers do not plant bioengineered seeds” or “this oil is made from soybeans that were not genetically engineered.”
The issue of mandatory vs. voluntary labeling of genetically modified foods has been a hot topic for consumers, the food industry and the agriculture community.
After voters and legislators in a number of states (Oregon, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Colorado and Vermont) considered mandatory labels for GM products, the U.S. House of Representatives in July passed a bill that would prevent such labels.
Many in the ag community believe that mandatory labels on GM products, which have been approved as safe for human consumption, would unfairly tarnish such products in consumers’ minds.
Against that backdrop, agriculture groups this week praised the FDA’s announcement.
“The FDA’s approach to voluntary labeling of food products would provide American consumers with truthful information in a clear manner that respects regulatory processes already in place,” said National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling, a farmer from Newburg, Md. “In maintaining a science- and process-based approach to mandatory labels while laying out a thoughtful, conscientious path for voluntary labeling, the FDA stood firmly both with the people who grow our food and those who buy it. A voluntary labeling system, like the one outlined, provides information that would allow consumers to make choices based in facts and not in fear.”
The American Soybean Association agreed. “We have consistently said that explicit labeling should be reserved for health or safety concerns, and science has time and time again proven that these concerns don’t apply to GMOs,” said ASA President Wade Cowan, who farms in Texas. “Slapping a warning label on the front of a food product when no such warning is warranted will only serve to steer people away from the safe and affordable food they need to feed their families. The White House has chosen science over rhetoric today, and we applaud them for it.”