IF anything has become evident in the ongoing debate over the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, it is that consumers have an increased desire to know more about their food. Also important is the need to keep measures based on science.
On Nov. 19, the Food & Drug Administration made a monumental move in stating that there is no material difference — such as the nutritional profile — between the AquAdvantage Salmon, a GE Atlantic salmon that has been enhanced to reach market size sooner, and conventional farmed Atlantic salmon.
Even though the fish was declared safe, FDA also issued two guidances for manufacturers that wish to voluntarily label their products as containing ingredients from GE or non-GE sources. FDA is seeking comments on the guidances for the next 60 days.
"We recognize that some consumers are interested in knowing whether food ingredients are derived from GE sources," said Dr. Susan Mayne, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition. "The FDA is issuing two guidance documents that explain how food companies that want to voluntarily label their products can provide this information to consumers."
The White House also has rejected petitions for mandatory GE labeling.
"FDA's rejection of the petition is a strong reaffirmation of the sound science policy underlying FDA's approval process. Only products found to be safe for human or animal use should be approved, and if they are approved as safe, there is no basis for mandatory labeling," National Milk Producers Federation president and chief executive officer Jim Mulhern noted.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said the Senate continues to work on a labeling solution, recognizing that unintended consequences can come with mandatory labeling but seeking to provide consumers with more information.
Reports indicate that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) is working on a bipartisan proposal — that may even be included in the year-end omnibus bill — to require food companies to use an on-package QR code that consumers could scan to find out additional information about the food. If food companies don't include the extra information by a certain date, however, the federal pre-emption would sunset.
A spokesman for Stabenow said, "No agreement on a path forward has been reached. Sen. Stabenow believes that for any solution to pass the Senate, it must establish a national system of required disclosure that would ensure consumers get the information they want about their food while also solving the problem of a 50-state patchwork of regulations."