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Vermont Leading the U.S. on GMO Labeling

Opinion

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
  • Chuck

    Ms. Halloran makes one very critical mistake with her opening paragraph when she commented about the usual ‘high standards of reporting” usually found in Food Safety News. Dan Flynn was expressing his opinion, it was note a news story. Her second mistake, in my opinion, was excusing Vermont’s mistake of exempting ‘medical foods’ because they are administered under a doctor’s supervision. If there is legitimate concern about the safety of GMO’s, there should be no labeling exemptions. If those concerns aren’t legitimate, there should be no labeling requirement.

  • mem_somerville

    The label claims here are just providing a veneer of credibility on the actual goals of this movement–which are to remove access to this technology for everyone. Don’t be fooled.

    https://storify.com/mem_somerville/gmo-labels-the-purpose-is

    It’s just like anti-vaxxers who pretend they aren’t anti-vax.

  • Oginikwe

    Labeling is inevitable: just do it and get it over with. It’s not a problem in Europe and it shouldn’t be a problem here, either.

  • Oginikwe

    Not quite. There is non-GMO food that is not organic. Maybe you want to contact Kraft and General MIlls on that one.

  • First Officer

    Those guidelines were developed in anticipation that there would be unique safety risks, not because they knew of any actually existed. Fast forward to now and no new risks have ever been found, in spite of such implementations of such guidelines, and for good practical and theoretical reasons. We have indeed looked under the rocks and found nothing.

    As for those non-safety reasons for labeling, freezing, pasteurization, etc, they affect taste and texture beyond that what is in normal variation of the product. Not so with a GMO simply because it is a GMO. When a soup company chooses a type of tomato for their soup, it is not required they list it’s Roma, or Big Boy, etc, only that it contains tomatoes. And, anyone who even passed the tomatoes in a supermarket can easily see there are a fair amount of differences between them. And most know that they taste and even handle differently. With many GMO’s not only can’t you see or taste a difference, you actually need specialized equipment to find any difference. Yet, you support labeling for the latter, but care not about the former. The only difference you are really citing is one was derived with a method that simply came later than the other.

    Gmo labeling is like summing up a person’s character by asking how he was born.

  • First Officer

    It should also be noted that GMO safety assessments are not voluntary in the United States. No testing, no FDA approval ! If it really were voluntary, then many developers would have simply have gone the route that hybrid and organic developers of new strains have went. And that can be as little as, do some breeding, see how it tastes,how it handles for the farmers and let the market work it out. Like what happened with non-gmo celery.

    To put it another way, is it legal in the United States to deploy a GMO for food without FDA approval?

    • Bill Pilacinski

      Also, you aren’t going to be able to grow it without FDA approval. In an application for non-regulated status to USDA they ask the status on submissions to other agencies. No FDA evaluation – no USDA approval. Bet on it.

  • hyperzombie

    no GMOs are allowed in Organic foods, 0 zip nada.