Lawmakers ask FDA to mandate labels on genetically modified food

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fifty-five lawmakers yesterday called on the Food and Drug Administration to require food makers to label their product if it contains genetically engineered ingredients.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the lawmakers — 54 Democrats and one Republican — said the current labeling protocols are "inadequate" for so-called GE, or genetically modified, products.

"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," the lawmakers, led by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), wrote in a letter. "FDA has a clear opportunity to protect a consumer’s right to know, the freedom to choose what we feed our families, and the integrity of our free and open markets with this petition."

Specifically, they are asking the FDA to adopt a legal petition submitted by more than 500 public health organizations and companies such as Stonyfield Farm that calls for a labeling requirement.

The campaign submitted the proposal in October, and the public comment period expires at the end of the month. So far, more than 900,000 comments in support of the measure have been submitted, according to a campaign spokeswoman. The campaign’s goal is 1 million by the deadline.

Polling has shown that Americans, the lawmakers wrote, are surprised that GE foods are not identified on labels and want the government to identify these products.

They also said that labeling doesn’t imply there is anything wrong with the food.

"The FDA requires the labeling of over 3,000 ingredients, additives, and processes; providing basic information doesn’t confuse the public, it empowers them to make choices," they wrote. "Absent labeling, Americans are unable to choose for themselves whether to purchase GE foods."

There are also GE labeling efforts under way in Boxer’s home state of California. Activists are collecting signatures to put a initiative that would require GE labeling on the November ballot (Greenwire, Feb. 16).

The members also said the labeling measure is particularly important as FDA continues its long review of whether to approve a genetically modified Atlantic salmon. If approved, it would be the first biotech animal on U.S supermarket shelves (E&E Daily, Dec. 16, 2011).

Click here to read the letter.