Feinstein to Obama: Move without Congress on GMOs

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is urging President Obama to use the power of his office to require labels on food containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Legislation pending in both the House and Senate would force companies to tell consumers which products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), though there is no clear path forward in the divided Congress.

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Major agriculture and biotechnology firms oppose the effort, and have poured millions of dollars into campaigns to defeat state ballot initiatives seeking to mandate a labeling system.

But Feinstein contends that imposing a federal labeling system could be achieved through a simple directive from the president to his Food and Drug Administration.

“Your administration should re-evaluate the Food and Drug Administration’s outdated policy that genetically engineered food does not need to disclose this fact on required labels,” the California Democrat wrote Friday in a letter to Obama.

“It is my view that the FDA does have the authority to require labeling for genetically engineered food products,” she said.

Specifically, Feinstein argues that the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act (FD&C) prohibits the misbranding of food, including “misleading” labels. Any label that fails to reveal material facts about the product is misleading, according to the statute.

Current FDA policy, rooted in a 1992 policy decision, does not consider a product’s inclusion of GMOs ingredients as material information that must be disclosed.

But Feinstein said the use of genetically enhanced ingredients has changed in the years, and she pointed to a July New York Times poll that found 93 percent of Americans favor GMO labeling.

The FDA has remained largely silent on the issue. Michael Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, formerly worked for the biotechnology firm Monsanto and has recused himself from the issue.

Food safety advocates have long said the FDA has the authority to enact mandatory labels in lieu of congressional action, and contend that consumers have a right to know what’s in their food.

But industry groups say GMO products, widely used for years, are perfectly safe. Mandatory labels would only serve to prejudice consumers against important technological advancements.

After the narrow defeats of mandatory labeling laws in California and Washington state, major food industry groups are floating bill language calling for voluntary labeling standards

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) have introduced competing legislation that would require labeling on all genetically modified food.