Organic Consumers Association Responds to FDA Push for Voluntary GMO Labeling and Safety Claims

FINLAND, Minn. – The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) today called on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to drop its plan to finalize guidance on the voluntary labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and instead respond to consumer demand for mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs or genetically engineered ingredients.

The OCA also called on FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to acknowledge the growing body of scientific evidence that GMOs, and the chemicals required to grow GMO crops, are potentially damaging to human health.

“It is an insult to anyone who buys food in this country to go on record stating that the FDA has ‘not found evidence of safety risks’ associated with GMOs,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the OCA. “The American Medical Association has called for pre-market safety testing of GMOs, and almost 300 scientists and doctors last year signed a statement saying that there is “no scientific consensus on GMO safety.”

PoliticoPro reported that on Wednesday (March 27), during a House subcommittee hearing on the FDA’s proposed budget, Hamburg said, “We put out a proposed guidance and we hope to finalize that soon. Mandatory labeling really is appropriate when there is a fault claim. The fact that a product contains GE ingredients does not change the material content of the product.”

Hamburg also said: “We have not found evidence of safety risks. It’s an area that deserves further discussion and study.”

The OCA’s response to that statement is: “If further studies are needed before the FDA can state unequivocally that GMOs are safe for human consumption, then GMOs should be eliminated from the food supply until those further studies have been done,” said Cummins. “At the very least, products containing GMOs should be clearly labeled, and labeling should be mandatory, so consumers can choose to avoid GMOs if they have any concerns. We should not allow the biotech and food companies to test these products on our families.”

In late February, the FDA announced plans to overhaul its 20-year-old rules governing the nutrition labels on food products. There was no mention of labeling genetically engineered ingredients, despite polls revealing that about 90 percent of Americans want GMOs labeled.

The FDA has been under pressure from biotech and food industry lobbyists to resist consumer demand for labels. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a multi-billion-dollar lobbying group representing over 300 junk food and pesticide makers, recently announced a draft bill that would require the FDA to rule against GMO labeling, and also make it legal to label foods containing GMOs as “natural.”

“We see this latest move by the FDA as a desperate attempt to confuse the issue of mandatory GMO labeling, especially now that Vermont and Oregon are poised to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws in 2014,” said Cummins. “We have consulted lawyers who assure us that if the FDA finalizes its voluntary guidance, this will in no way preempt states, or Congress, from passing and implementing mandatory GMO labeling laws.

“As for ‘no evidence’ of safety risks,” Cummins said, “one of the reasons doctors and scientists are calling for mandatory labeling laws is precisely so that illnesses can be traced back to their source. Without labels on GMO foods, it’s easy to say there’s no evidence linking them to health problems. There’s also no accountability.”

Recent studies have linked GMOs to human health issues, including kidney and liver failure, allergies and cancer.

The FDA ruled in 1992 that GMOs were “substantially equivalent” to non-GMO ingredients, and that on that basis, no labels were required. That ruling occurred under then-FDA Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lawyer. Taylor left his FDA post to return to Monsanto, only to return to the FDA as its current Deputy Commissioner for Food.