WASHINGTON, June 8, 2016 - Three veterans of agriculture and food policy whom a President Hillary Clinton might want to tap for advice see no justification for mandatory GMO labeling, and they see no need for reorganizing the federal regulatory agencies.

Margaret Hamburg, who headed the Food and Drug Administration during most of the Obama administration, says that calls for mandatory labeling of biotech foods “potentially send the message” that GMOs are “dangerous.” During her tenure at FDA, the agency stood by its long-standing position that there was no legal basis for requiring labels on biotech products.

Hamburg, speaking on a panel at Georgetown University Law Center, worries that the public concerns about agricultural biotechnology reflect “science denialism.”

“The positives (of genetic engineering) are very compelling, especially if we care about food security around the globe,” she said.

Donna Shalala, who oversaw FDA as secretary of health and human services for all eight years of the Clinton administration, said it’s critical for the president to protect the FDA’s ability to make science-based decisions on biotechnology as well as on other issues. “If we are not willing to tie ourselves to science-based decisions, we will be in big trouble in this country,” she said. Shalala worries that on food issues and biotechnology in particular “people often let their ideology and their opinions equate to facts.”

Dan Glickman, agriculture secretary during Bill Clinton’s administration, has long been a supporter of biotechnology, but he warned that skepticism about genetic engineering has underscored the need to restore public confidence in regulatory agencies. He said there is “growing lack of trust by Americans in all of their institutions – government, politics, business, regulation.”

Hillary Clinton has provided mixed messages on GMO labeling. While campaigning in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses, she reportedly expressed support for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s effort to forge a compromise on the issue. Vilsack has argued that food companies should be allowed to disclose biotech ingredients through smartphone codes as opposed to on-package wording. However, the Clinton campaign’s Twitter feed later praised the Senate for blocking a bill that would preempt state labeling laws. “Congress shouldn’t block states from giving families information about their food,” the March 16 tweet said.


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