WASHINGTON, June 27, 2012 -American Medical Association (AMA) delegates addressed two controversial consumer interests last week – labeling of genetically modified foods and sweeteners in beverages – but the policy changes adopted fell short of the more stringent action demanded by some in the organization.

AMA members at the 161st Annual Meeting adopted a policy statement that said the organization believes “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education.”

AMA board member, Dr. Patrice Harris said the organization adopted the policy based on the recognition “that there currently is no evidence that there are material differences or safety concerns in available bioengineered foods.”

“The new policy also supports mandatory Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pre-market systemic safety assessments of these foods as a preventive measure to ensure the health of the public,” she said. “We also urge the FDA to remain alert to new data on the health consequences of bioengineered foods.”

The policy adopted fell short of what was sought by some in the AMA who wanted the association to call for labeling of genetically modified food.

However, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) commended AMA’s vote, noting that “the use of genetically engineered ingredients in the food supply is based on a wealth of scientific research and evidence.”

In a statement released after the delegate vote, the GMA said, “Consumers can rest assured that all stakeholders – food companies, regulatory agencies, medical doctors and the scientific community ‑ will continue to ensure the safety of the food supply.”

AMA delegates also adopted a policy calling for the use of any taxes on beverages containing sweeteners to go to anti-obesity programs. The position falls short for those in the AMA who wanted a stronger stance on the use of sweeteners in beverages and a tie-in with increasing rates of obesity.

AMA officials were quick to point out that the association neither supports nor oppose taxes on beverages with sweeteners. Instead, the new policy, they said, looks to direct any revenue stream toward obesity education and outreach programs.

Specifically, the policy states, “Where taxes on beverages with added sweeteners are implemented, the revenue should be used primarily for programs to prevent and/or treat obesity and related conditions.” AMA policy only identifies “beverages with added sweeteners,” and does not specify further action.

Suggestions for revenue use include educational ad campaigns, improved access to potable drinking water, “particularly in schools and communities disproportionately affected by obesity and related conditions,” and research exploring “the population health outcomes that may be affected by such taxes.”

Despite the AMA claims of neutrality when it comes to taxing sweetened beverages, the American Beverage Association (ABA) protested that the AMA even raised the possibility. In a statement, the beverage group said “funding anti-obesity programs through discriminatory taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages is misguided.”

The ABA cited a report by the medical association that acknowledges that sugar-sweetened beverage taxes alone are “unlikely to significantly impact the prevalence of obesity and other adverse outcomes.”

Additionally, the ABA stated that a wide range of factors contribute to obesity and singling out one ingredient – or one set of products – undermines efforts to combat the problem.


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