The White House wants to help ease consumer concerns over genetically modified foods — GMOs — with a move to improve and modernize the regulatory "framework" for GMO crops.
President Barack Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy made the announcement last week in response to demands by consumers, food-related organizations and businesses calling for tighter regulations and labeling requirements on GMO crops.
The White House said "the complexity of the array of regulations and guidance documents developed by the three Federal agencies [USDA, FDA and EPA]... can make it difficult for the public to understand how the safety of biotechnology products is evaluated, and navigating the regulatory process for these products can be unduly challenging, especially for small companies."
According to Reuters, the USDA’s Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed a rule in 2008 “after being cited in a government audit for oversight lapses, and after high-profile GMO contaminations that led to food recalls and disrupted trade.” But that proposal was never finalized and consumer concern over the safety of GMOs has been steadily increasing in the years since it was submitted.
"Reform of the badly outdated system for reviewing GMO crops and other products is long overdue," Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement.
Still, the proposed improvements won’t give consumers what many have been asking for: transparency in labeling. The USDA recently announced plans for a federally regulated non-GMO labeling system, but won’t implement mandatory labeling on foods that do contain genetically modified ingredients. Such labeling systems exist in other parts of the world, but the biotech industry has pushed hard against approval in the U.S.—and federal agencies generally agree, stating that since the government sees no difference between genetically modified and non-GMO foods, labeling would only confuse customers and cost manufacturers money.
Vermont residents, however, will likely be seeing labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients: The state passed a mandatory labeling law set to go into effect in 2016. Meanwhile, Whole Foods Market customers will also see labels by 2018, as the store is working with all of its suppliers to label products with GMOs.
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