In 'eleventh hour' move, FDA releases inadequate policy that makes American consumers guinea pigs for safety testing of genetically engineered food
Washington, DC – Today, in the final days of the current administration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted their long overdue, controversial policy on genetically engineered foods. This is the same policy that has come under fire from consumer, environmental and farm groups since it was first proposed in May, 2000. The rules will not require labeling of genetically engineered foods nor require mandatory pre-market safety testing; the two provisions food safety advocates have been lobbying for.
"This policy means that the FDA will not require any mandatory testing on genetically engineered food," said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety and member of the Genetically Engineered Food Alert coalition. "Under these rules, American consumers will still be the guinea pigs testing the safety of these foods. Voluntary labeling means consumers won't see any labels out of this, and won't have a right to choose."
The FDA has decided to move forward with their controversial and criticized rules despite this fall's debacle and embarrassment in the federal regulatory system over Starlink™ corn. StarLink™ genetically engineered corn, which is not meant for human consumption, was discovered by the Genetically Engineered Food Alert in tacos shells and other corn products on grocery store shelves. The Starlink™ debacle prompted over three hundred food product recalls, causing millions of dollars in losses to food processors, grain mills and farmers across the country.
"With its new policy, the FDA is giving consumers a false sense of security - the sense that the government is providing a safeguard when this is really not the case," said Philip Clapp, President of the National Environmental Trust. "This policy is geared towards protecting industry, not consumers."
Voluntary Labeling Means that Consumers Will be Deprived of the Right to Choose
The FDA's new policy also rejects mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Instead the agency has created a "GE Free" voluntary labeling scheme which violates the right of American consumers to know which foods have been genetically engineered.
"Under the new FDA policy not a single producer of genetically engineered foods will have to reveal that their product is genetically engineered," said Richard Caplan, Environmental Advocate at the State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs).
FDA's new voluntary labeling idea would punish those not using the technology by putting the burden on them to certify, test and label their foods as "GE Free." Many companies will not want to undergo the considerable time, expense and liability of testing, certifying and labeling their foods as "GE Free."
"FDA's new voluntary labeling policy serves the interests of a few biotechnology companies at the expense of the rest of the food industry and millions of consumers," said Caplan.
Consultation Is Not Testing
As part of the proposed guidelines, FDA announced today that it will not require mandatory pre-market safety testing of genetically engineered foods, but rather engage in "consultations" with food producers. Consultations and safety reviews are still voluntary.
"Mandatory consultations" have no legal meaning. To ensure safety, the alteration of food involved in genetic engineering - the addition of new genes, bacterial vectors, viral promoters, and anti-biotic marker systems - should go through the rigorous safety and toxicological tests required of all "food additives." Rules should include new testing for such things as unknown allergens, novel toxins and changes in nutritional content. To date, the FDA has refused to require this food additive testing for genetically engineered foods.
US - EU Panel Calls for Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food
FDA's policy ignores the recommendations of the Biotechnology Consultative Forum, and international panel of experts, representing both sides of the biotechnology argument.
In a report released on December 18, 2000, the Biotechnology Consultative Forum, recommended to the Clinton Administration that genetically engineered food be more strictly regulated in the United States. The panel called for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food in order to protect consumers' right to informed choice about what they eat.
American Consumers Overwhelmingly Support Labeling GE Foods
Most Americans support labeling. A Harris Poll conducted this summer showed that 86 percent of Americans believe the government "should require the labeling of all packaged and other food products stating they include corn, soy or other products which have come from genetically modified crops."
Petition for Real Safety Rules Ignored by FDA
On March 21, 2000, the Center for Food Safety and 50 other environmental and consumer safety groups filed a legal petition with the FDA demanding the development of a thorough pre-market and environmental testing regime and mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods. The petition provided FDA with a blueprint for developing a mandatory pre-market safety regime based upon the legal requirements of the Food Additive petition process.
The petition specifies what steps must be taken to ensure public confidence in the FDA's authority over genetically engineered foods, including specific tests for allergenicity, toxicity, and unintended effects, and institution of mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods.
Genetically Engineered Food Alert believes that genetically engineered food or food ingredients should not be allowed on the market until they are adequately safety tested and labeled. The campaign provides web-based opportunities for individuals to express concern about genetically engineered food and fact sheets on health, environmental and economic information about genetically engineered food. The campaign is endorsed by more than 250 scientists, religious leaders, doctors, chefs, environmental and health leaders, as well as farm groups.
The full text of the FDA Policy is available at http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/oc/ohrms/advdisplay.cfm
Background information on genetically engineered food and GE Food Alert is available at