FDA concerned with GMO labeling ‘compromise’

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expressed concern over a new bipartisan compromise to address the national fight over the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.

{mosads}The agreement, which could get a procedural vote on the Senate floor as early as next week, would require the Agriculture Secretary to create within two years a national mandatory disclosure standard for food that contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The bill allows producers to put a telephone number for consumers to dial or a QR code on product labels that can be scanned with a smartphone to find out if the product contains GMOs.

In technical comments submitted to the Senate Agriculture Committee, the agency said the rules that would come from the Agriculture Department could conflict with FDA labeling requirements.

“For example, depending on what USDA requires for small packages, it is possible that a manufacturer would not be able to fit both FDA’s required statements and USDA’s required information on the label,” according to a copy of the comments obtained by the Center for Food Safety.

The agency also said the draft bill’s definition of “bioengineering” is confusing and could narrow the scope of foods that would be required to have a disclosure statement.

The bill, authored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), defines bioengineering as food “that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques; and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

The FDA said the phrase “contains genetic material” likely means that many foods from genetically engineered sources, such as oil made from GE soy, would not have any genetic material in it and therefore not be covered by the legislation.

The agency also took issue with the phrase “could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

“It may be difficult to demonstrate that a particular modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding or even that it could not occur in nature,” the agency said.

The FDA would not comment on the technical comments it submitted to the committee.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not taken a position on the bill,” Theresa Eisenman, an agency spokeswoman, said. “The FDA, similar to other federal agencies, provides technical assistance on draft legislation at the request of Congress. The FDA does not comment on its interactions with Congress.”  

Opponents say the bill is a backroom deal brokered by lawmakers to kill mandatory labeling laws in states such as Vermont, which requires products to be clearly labeled “produced with genetic engineering.”  

“The FDA critique makes it very clear that this is really a non-labeling bill disguised as a labeling bill,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “Its very definition excludes vast numbers of, and potentially all, GMO products from labeling.”

The legislation excludes food derived from an animal from being considered a bioengineered food solely because the animal ate feed from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered substance.

Kimbrell called the agreement “poorly written, discriminatory and ineffective legislation” and said it would be a travesty if democratically decided upon labeling laws in fives states are blocked by it.

“A bill of this importance merits hearings, expert testimony and thorough legal analysis, not the ‘backroom dealing’ that created this deeply flawed draft,” he said. “As it stands, this bill is a sham and a legislative embarrassment.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has vowed to do everything he can to defeat the bill.

“GMO labeling exists in dozens of countries around the world,” he said. “It is not controversial.”

Supporters claim the bill is win-win for both producers and consumers.

“Throughout this process I worked to ensure that any agreement would recognize the scientific consensus that biotechnology is safe, while also making sure consumers have the right to know what is in their food,” Stabenow said in a statement. “I also wanted a bill that prevents a confusing patchwork of 50 different rules in each state. This bill achieved all of those goals, and most importantly recognizes that consumers want more information about the foods they buy.”


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