Today the FDA publicly declared that “Food From Genetically Engineered Plants Is Safe To Eat.”
The agency says since there is no scientific proof that GMOs are bad, therefore, they must be safe. Following that logic, the agency says that genetically engineered foods are pretty much the same as traditional (or non-engineered) foods:
“The agency is not aware of any valid scientific information showing that foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class of foods, differ from other foods in any meaningful way.”
This news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement on their guidance for manufacturers who wish to voluntarily label their foods as containing GMOs or not. The FDA provided the “guidance” to help food and feed manufacturers who might want to voluntarily label their plant-derived food products or ingredients (for humans or for animals) as having been made with or without GMOs.
It’s entirely up to them.
Ignorance is not bliss
While the FDA acknowledges that “many consumers are interested in whether food ingredients are derived from genetically engineered plants,” they don’t think consumers are required to have that information, because their policy on labeling GMOs is strictly voluntary.
Basically, the FDA says that manufacturers are not required to notify the public that their food contains genetically engineered plant ingredients or not, leaving the problem of informing consumers up to non-government organizations like the Non-GMO Project.
The agency is also taking issue with the term GMOs and prefers the term “genetic engineering” over the more commonly known acronym: GMOs; insisting that,
“While genetic engineering is sometimes referred to as “genetic modification” producing “genetically modified organisms (GMOs),” FDA considers “genetic engineering” to be the more precise term.”
…”we recommend they use terms such as “not genetically engineered,” “not bioengineered,” or “not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology.””
In case you didn’t notice, the FDA does not use the terms “genetically modified” or “genetically modified organism” (GMO) when referring to foods derived from genetically engineered plants, because they don’t like them.
Even so, FDA does not intend to take enforcement action against a label using the acronym “GMO” on a label.
The reason why the FDA is not too keen on the term “genetic modification,” is because they feel it encompasses too broad a range of methods that can be used to alter the genetic composition of a plant, including alterations achieved through traditional hybridization or breeding techniques – “a term which could apply to most cultivated food crops since most food crops are the product of selective breeding.”
Additionally, the FDA isn’t too keen on the “O” in the acronym “GMO” either, because it refers to the word “organism.”
Because most foods do not contain entire organisms, with the exception of foods such as yogurt that contain microorganisms.
They also don’t really like the word “free” either, when referring to terms such as “GMO free,” “GE free,” “does not contain GMOs,” “non-GMO,” and similar claims.
Two reasons. One, the term “free” conveys zero or total absence unless “a regulatory definition has been put in place in a specific situation” (that’s what their reason,not mine). Two, it’s hard to prove.
It’s just a new plant variety
For a deeper look into the FDA’s thoughts on the subject of GMOs, the FDA refers us to their 1992 classic, “Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties.” In it, the FDA stated:
[that it was] “not aware of any information showing that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”
It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature
While the agency insists there are no “meaningful” differences between GMO foods vs. traditional foods, they fail to address the environmental concerns that GMOs pose. There are material differences in how these types of crops respond to pests and pesticides, how they contaminate virgin crops, and their non-genetically engineered counterparts. Therefore, those foods made from those crops are materially different from its traditional counterpart, in terms of their effect on the environment. However, the law does not require the labeling of food to disclose such differences.
Yet, I wonder, is it not misleading or confusing to consumers when the FDA refers to a genetic engineered plant simply as a “new plant variety?”
How to avoid bioengineered (aka GMO) food?
According to the FDA:
Use of certified organic food. USDA regulations on organic food production and handling provide in relevant part that in order for a food to be sold or labeled as “100% organic,” “organic” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)), the food must be produced and handled without the use of such “excluded methods” as these methods are defined in 7 CFR 205.2. Compliance with USDA’s requirements at 7 CFR 205.105 can therefore be used to support food labeling claims about the production of food without the use of bioengineering.
To learn more about FDA’s policy and labeling requirements for genetically engineered crops that are materially different from their traditional counterparts, please see their web page on Labeling of Foods Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants.
P.S.: Just in case you missed it, the FDA recently approved Frankenfish. All kidding aside, they just approved the sale of ‘genetically engineered’ salmon Thursday. And…you guessed it! It won’t be required to be labeled either!