Since we have great respect for the high standards of reporting generally found in Food Safety News, we were surprised by a number of uninformed statements in your May 3 editorial, “A Mess in Vermont.”
Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, has been calling for labeling of genetically engineered food since these products were introduced 20 years ago and testified in favor of the Vermont labeling law four times. We regard the bill as well crafted — not at all a mess — as does the Vermont legislature.
We, and many others, support labeling not because we think these foods are necessarily unsafe — although we do have safety concerns. Rather, we believe genetically engineered foods are simply different. Just as we label foods that are frozen, homogenized, from concentrate and irradiated, foods that are genetically engineered should be labeled, too.
It is worth taking a look at the safety issues, however, as they do bolster the case for labeling. Dan Flynn writes:
“If we thought the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the world’s major scientific bodies were wrong in their conclusions that there are no differences in the risk profiles of GMO and non-GMO foods, we, too, might support a role for the states in all this. But we don’t.”
Actually, FDA and the world’s major scientific bodies — most notably Codex Alimentarius, the food standards agency of WHO/FAO — are quite clear that there ARE differences in the risk profiles of GMO and non-GMO foods. Codex developed — and achieved global consensus on among food regulators, including FDA — Guidelines for evaluating the safety of genetically engineered plants, animals, and microorganisms. These Guidelines were developed because of the unique safety risks of GMOs. Risks requiring evaluation include increases in toxins and allergens, changes in nutrition, and unintended effects.
FDA, unlike European food safety agencies, does not mandate safety assessments of GMOs prior to marketing. However, it urges companies to conduct them voluntarily and to consult with the agency about the results.
None of these bodies are known for wearing tinfoil hats. Because safety assessments are entirely voluntary in the U.S., however, we think this creates a further justification for requiring labeling.
The editorial also criticizes the Vermont bill for exempting medical foods, stating: “So-called ‘medical food,’ as defined somewhere in the federal code, is exempt. Is that the cutout for the supplement section at your friendly food store? There are many questions like that one.”
A short trip to fda.gov reveals: “A medical food, as defined in section 5(b)(3) of the Orphan Drug Act (21 U.S.C. 360ee(b)(3)), is ‘a food which is formulated to be consumed or administered enterally under the supervision of a physician and which is intended for the specific dietary management of a disease or condition for which distinctive nutritional requirements, based on recognized scientific principles, are established by medical evaluation.’”
Because these foods are administered under a doctor’s supervision, Vermont appropriately exempted them from the labeling requirement.
For a state to act when the federal government has failed to for several decades is not “ludicrous.” We commend Vermont for passing its labeling law and urge other states to follow suit.© Food Safety News