Top FDA official backs voluntary GMO labeling

During House appropriations hearing FDA commissioner says evidence of genetically engineered foods sound.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg reinforced the FDA’s stance on the labeling of products containing biotechnology in a House Appropriations subcommittee meeting Thursday morning.

Following up on questioning from House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.), Hamburg said FDA supports voluntary labeling, but opposes mandatory labeling.

She explained mandatory labeling is appropriate and required when there is a false claim or misbranding. She explained the presence of genetically engineered materials in food doesn’t constitute a material change in product such as the nutritional content, performance of the food, taste or aroma.

“From a scientific and safety assessment, we do not currently believe genetic modification of food products make a material change to the product in terms of nutritional or other qualities,” Hamburg testified.

She also noted that there is “a lot of very credible” research that has been evaluated over a long period of time that backs the safety of GE foods.

Hamburg recognized that the labeling of genetically engineered foods is “obviously on the minds of many Americans” but she said the voluntary approach to labeling does provide for an opportunity for those who desire to avoid GE foods to do so.

Hamburg did say FDA hopes to finalize soon a proposed guidance with respect to plant-based genetically modified foods.

The Coalition for Safe and Affordable Foods, consisting of different segments of the food supply chain, are advocating for federal legislation that would require the FDA to conduct a safety review of all new GMO traits before they are introduced into commerce. FDA will be empowered to mandate the labeling of GMO food ingredients if the agency determines there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with GMO technology.

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