FDA says it will finalize voluntary GMO labeling 'soon'

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 28, 2014 - FDA will soon finalize its voluntary guidance on genetically engineered food labeling, agency Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told the House Appropriations Committee yesterday.

“We have supported voluntary labeling and we put out a proposed guidance with respect to plant-based modified foods and we hope to finalize that soon,” Hamburg said in response to a question from Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

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“The way that over many, many years FDA had interpreted the law - and its been supported by the courts - is that mandatory labeling really is appropriate and required when there is a false claim or misbranding,” Hamburg said. “The fact that the food contains [genetically engineered] materials does not constitute a material change in the product.”

Hamburg acknowledged, however, that the issue of genetically engineered food labeling has been controversial. “This is an area that obviously very much on the mind of many Americans,” she said.

In 2001, FDA issued a voluntary guidance allowing companies to label their foods as free from GMO's as long as the labels meet certain federal requirements. The guidance, however, has to be finalized.

In the interim, the food industry has proposed its own voluntary GMO labeling legislation. The Grocery Manufacturers Association says the effort is an attempt to cut down on what it says is misinformation about genetically modified foods - namely, that they are dangerous to human health.

 In June 2012, the American Medical Association came out against GMO labeling. “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and…voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education,” the group said in a statement.

State GMO labeling initiatives in California and Washington were rejected by voters in 2012 and 2012. Though Maine and Connecticut both passed labeling initiatives last year, those laws will only take effect should other contiguous states pass similar legislation. 

Others, including Vermont, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona are expected to consider their own labeling bills this year.

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