Food Companies Propose Legislation to Allow Voluntary Non-GMO Labeling

Killer TomatoesLast week, Maine became the

second state to approve legislation
mandating that foods made
using ingredients from modern biotech crop varieties be
conspicuously labeled “Produced with Genetic Engineering.” Like the
first state, Connecticut, the labeling mandate will not come into
effect until more states have adopted similar measures.

Also last week, a consortium of major food companies issued a
that would preempt such state-mandated labeling
requirements, but permit food companies to voluntarily disclose
that their products contained no ingredients from genetically
modified crops. I basically agree with the
reaction of Elizabeth Whelan
, head of the American Council on
Science and Health to the proposal:

“Of course, GMO-containing (biotech) foods are not a health
threat to anyone, but that is merely a scientific position, based
on technology and 17+ years experience of millions of consumers
eating these products without any trace or suggestion of harm.
Those opposed to biotechnology are either reacting out of
superstition and baseless fears, or are beholden to the organic
food industry, which is now a behemoth, but they have succeeded in
fomenting consumer and corporate concerns. All parties should be
happy with this new idea, consolidating the labelling issue. I
would prefer if those who choose to market non-GMO products just
went ahead and labelled their own items and left the rest of us

Specifically, the proposed bill…

…would allow manufacturers to voluntarily make claims about
the absence of bioengineered ingredients if the manufacturer has in
place a traceability program to ensure bioengineered food is not
commingled with the non-bioengineered food at any stage of
production from farm to retail, while making allowances for
unavoidable, inadvertent cross contact with bioengineered foods.
The claim could be made on dairy products derived from
cows and other milk-producing animals that consumed feed or a feed
ingredient or received a drug or biological product that was
developed through biotechnology and has been authorized for such
use by the Secretary. The claim may also be made on a food produced
with a bioengineered processing aid or enzyme. To avoid misleading
consumers, claims regarding bioengineering would not be permitted
to state or imply that a food is more or less safe solely because
of the use or absence of bioengineered food. The provision would
also authorize FDA to develop regulations for the voluntary
labeling of the presence of bioengineered ingredients in food
products. As under the mandatory notification program, FDA would
have the authority to mandate special labeling to address any
material difference that could affect health and safety or cause
consumer deception. The regulations under this section shall not
prevent a person from a) disclosing voluntarily on the labeling of
bioengineered food the manner in which the food has been modified
to express traits or characteristics that differ from its
comparable marketed food or 2) from disclosing advertisements, on
the internet, in response to consumer inquiries, or on other
communications that food is or contains an ingredient derived
through the use of biotechnology.

I want to highlight an especially critical aspect of the
proposal: To avoid misleading consumers, claims
regarding bioengineering would not be permitted to state or imply
that a food is more or less safe solely because of the use or
absence of bioengineered food.

Although allowing non-GMO growers and food sellers to label
their products as such will likely mislead consumers into paying
for products that are
no better than foods
using ingredients from conventional or
biotech crops,  the draft proposal is a sensible

from Hit & Run

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