by Marion Nestle
Jun 30 2016

The FDA weighs in on GMO labeling

The Senate’s proposed GMO labeling bill gives food companies three options:

  • An on-package code that consumers can scan with a smartphone
  • A 1-800 number
  • A symbol to be developed by USDA

None of these does what Mars is already doing on M&Ms, for example—a straightforward, easy-to-read, quickly understandable statement that the product is “partially produced with genetic engineering.”


Now, the FDA has just produced a technical assessment of the Senate bill.

This makes it clear that the Senate has no idea what labeling rules entail.  Some examples:

  • We note that provisions to allow information regarding the GE content of food to be presented only in an electronically accessible form and not on the package label would be in tension with FDA’s statute and regulations, which require disclosures on food labels.
  • We are concerned that USDA’s regulations implementing the mandatory standard under this bill could conflict with FDA’s labeling requirements.
  • We note several points in the drafting of the bill that raise confusion.
  • It appears that the intent is to have the bill apply to all foods except those that are essentially meat, poultry, or eggs, and that the drafters may have assumed, incorrectly, that products covered by the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, or the Egg Products Inspection Act are not covered by the FD&C Act.
  • [One section requires] the USDA regulations to “prohibit a food derived from an animal to be considered a bioengineered food solely because [of a certain fact]”. This is unclear — the language of “prohibit[ion]” and of ‘be[ing] considered”, if taken literally, would mean that an advocacy group that thought of these foods as being bioengineered would thereby have violated the USDA regulation and could be subject to sanctions.

The Senate bill is decidedly corporate-friendly.  It is decidedly not consumer-friendly.

Clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

  • FosterBoondoggle

    Argh. Here we go again. MN, please, for once, explain what you think is different about beet sugar from RR beets vs. beet sugar from older, non-GE varieties. And why the FDA, whose concerns to date have all been about material *content* – or process insofar as it affects content – should be relevant? (They don’t seem to have concerns about identifying the phase of the moon during the wheat harvest, for example, though some druids out there might think that’s important.) The people who really “care” about this stuff seem to be mainly consumers who have fears and anxieties whipped up by purveyors of nonsense like Foodbabe and Mike Adams. Why do you think it’s a good idea to not just cater to these anxieties but go out of our way to encourage them?

  • George Darroch

    The fact that we are even having this debate is mind-boggling. There is *nothing* different about GMO products.

    As the poster below notes, this is superstition being pushed through Congress, with real harms for consumers and agriculture.

  • Farmer with a Dell

    Big stink over a vanity label. Put the silly “GMO” distinction in a smart label icon to inform orthrexic hypochondriacs, along with whatever other inconsequential fluff is trending. Maybe also a warning that “this food may have been produced by a farmer garbed in unfashionable clothing” in order to spare the delicate sensitivities of the impeccably fashion conscious. Why is FDA wasting valuable time with any of this asinine foolishness? Instead, cuff some sense into the foodie fools and send them to bed without their supper. Stop making spoiled brats of them.