NOTE: This is a guest post from Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director at the Center for Food Safety.
If you’re an American and you want to know if your food contains aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, trans-fats or MSG, you simply read the ingredients label. But if you want to know if it contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, you’re not going to find any information on the package.
Because unlike most other developed countries–such as the 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China–the U.S. has no laws requiring labeling of GE foods. Yet polls have repeatedly shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans–over 90% in most polls–believe GE foods should be labeled.
Unsuspecting consumers by the tens of millions are being allowed to purchase and eat unlabeled genetically engineered foods, despite the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does no independent testing of their safety. In fact, documents uncovered in prior litigation show that scientists within FDA indicated that the foods could pose serious risks.
So why has the FDA not acted to require labeling?
In 1992, the FDA issued a policy statement that GE foods need not be labeled because they were not “materially” different from other foods. The agency severely limited what it considered “material” to only changes in food that could be noted by taste, smell, or other senses. Since GE foods can’t be “sensed” in this way, FDA declared them to be “substantially equivalent” to conventionally produced foods, and no labeling was required. It was, and remains, a political decision, not a scientific one.
After almost 20 years, this outdated 19th century policy is unfortunately still in effect today. Yet the 21st century has brought fundamental changes to food that cannot be seen, first through genetic engineering and soon through nanotechnology and synthetic biology. FDA must move into the new century and give consumers the information they overwhelmingly believe to be important, for a host of health, environmental, ethical and religious reasons.
Last week, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a formal legal petition with FDA to require labeling of GE foods. CFS prepared the legal action in coalition with the Just Label It! campaign; a coalition of over 350 health, consumer, environmental, farming organizations, and food companies. FDA has opened a public comment docket for the Petition where consumers can let them know that they want GE foods labeled. The Center for Food Safety has set up an easy way to send your comments through their labeling campaign website at www.gefoodlabels.org.
In the U.S., we pride ourselves on having choices and making informed decisions. FDA should not allow hiding your ingredients to be a business plan. Under current FDA regulations we don’t have that choice when it comes to GE ingredients in the foods we purchase and feed our families. It’s time FDA rewrite its outdated policy.
Andrew Kimbrell is an attorney and the Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, a national, non-profit membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. CFS currently represents nearly 200,000 members across the nation. On the web at: www.centerforfoodsafety.org and www.truefoodnow.org.