groceries

GMO labeling won’t be mandatory in the U.S., says the FDA, even though lawmakers and advocacy groups say there is enough reason for the agency to do so.

But that’s the decision FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg shared with a House panel last week.

“We have not seen evidence of safety risks associated with genetically modified foods,” Hamburg said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing to assess the FDA’s 2015 budget request, reports the Hill. “The way FDA has for many years interpreted the law and it has been supported by the courts is that mandatory labeling is appropriate and required when there is a fault claim or misbranding. The fact that a food contains GE ingredients does not constitute a material change in the product,” she said.

Hamburg did say that the agency is currently working on guidance that would back a “voluntary system” for labeling GMOs. “We have supported voluntary labeling, and we have put out a proposed guidance, and we hope to finalize that soon.” This approach, which is supported by industry groups including the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, has been criticized for favoring the GMO industry and not providing consumers with sufficient information about our food system.

According to the Hill, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) criticized the FDA for its “unwillingness to impose mandatory labeling requirements.” She said mandatory labeling would be “the least the government can do” to provide American consumers with information about their food choices. “It’s beyond me that we can’t have accurate labeling,” Lowey told Hamburg at the hearing. “The labeling can’t hurt anybody but it’s possible that the lack of adequate labeling could, of course.”

“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 Organic Consumers Association, in a statement released by the organization. “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.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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