80+ Groups Urge FDA, USDA to Change U.S. Position on Food Labeling | Civil Eats

80+ Groups Urge FDA, USDA to Change U.S. Position on Food Labeling

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, and more than 80 farmers, public health, environmental, and organic food organizations today sent a letter to Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Food at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and to Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), expressing serious concerns that a proposed U.S. position on food labeling would create major problems for American producers who want to label their products as free of genetically modified (GM)/genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. A copy of the letter can be found online [PDF].

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is a United Nations agency that develops food safety and labeling standards. Its standards carry weight because they are used to settle disputes at the World Trade Organization. The Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) meets in Quebec City, Canada May 3-7, 2010 to discuss the labeling issue.

The letter refers specifically to a position, drafted by USDA and FDA, that opposes a Codex document stating that countries can adopt different approaches to labeling of GE food, in line with existing Codex guidance. The current U.S. draft position goes even further to say that mandatory labeling of food as GE/GM “is likely to create the impression that the labeled food is in some way different” and would therefore be “false, misleading or deceptive.”

“We are concerned that the current U.S. position could potentially create significant problems for food producers in the U.S. who wish to indicate that their products contain no GE ingredients. Organic food in particular, which prohibits GE ingredients, are frequently labeled ‘GE-free’ or ‘No GMOs’. A recent CU poll [PDF] found that two-thirds of consumers would be concerned if they thought that GE/GM ingredients were in organic food,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

The U.S. position paper states that Codex should not “suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods.” However, Dr. Hansen stated, “Such foods clearly are different. USDA organic rules specifically state that GE seed cannot be used in organic production. The FDA has also taken the position that within the U.S., voluntary labeling as to whether or not a product contains GE ingredients is permissible.”

The letter to USDA and FDA is signed by the Organic Trade Association, the Organic Consumers Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Organic Coalition, and R-CALF USA, among many others.

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“We find it hard to understand how FDA and USDA can argue to Codex that mandatory labeling is inherently false and misleading, but voluntary labeling, which is permitted in the United States, is not,” the groups state. “We are, in fact, concerned that the current U.S. position appears to seek to establish precedents at Codex that would make it difficult to label food as non-GM within the U.S.”

The groups also urge the U.S. to not allow trade goals to interfere with or overrule judgments made on sound science and existing policy.

Join CREDO Action in calling on the U.S. delegation to the Codex Committee meeting, led by representatives of FDA and USDA, to drop these positions and support proposals to allow countries to make their own decisions on the labeling of GE foods.

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Naomi Starkman is the founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats. She was a 2016 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford. Naomi has worked as a media consultant at Newsweek, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, WIRED, and Consumer Reports magazines. After graduating from law school, she served as the Deputy Executive Director of the City of San Francisco’s Ethics Commission. Naomi is an avid organic gardener, having worked on several farms.  Read more >

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  1. carol schnedier
    Please read about genetically modified foods as a possible cause of cancer...but the harm is so much more than that. Let us control what we eat...do not bury foreign ingredients into our clean and natural foods without telling us. And for G_d's sake, leave our organic foods alone...let them be pure...why must man rework and mark every damn thing like it's a pissing contest...that nature provides...let the planet be!!!
  2. k machon
    An informed public cannot be duped or dominated. get informed.. lots of catching up to do\.
  3. Theresa Viselli
    I cannot understand why our foods are not properly labeled. I am putting myself at risk believing I'm eating healthy only to find out I'm not. PLEASE CHANGE FOOD LABELING PROCEDURES!
  4. John fReynolds
    I cannot understand why our foods are not properly labeled. I am putting myself at risk believing I’m eating healthy only to find out I’m not. PLEASE CHANGE FOOD LABELING PROCEDURES!

    I always want to know what is in the food that I eat. I have had a heart attack and it is my right to know what is in the food that I injest.
  5. Joan Archibald
    Our governmnement should not be a party to this effort to prevent people being informed about any food they may buy being genetically modified. This is a deliberate act against the people in order to give large food growers more profits by using GMO fooods rather than natural and orgsganically grown grown food provided by smaller individual farmrrs.
    Our government should should be protecting us from this kind of deception.

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