September 1, 2009

GMO Labels, But for How Long?

The good news in the recent NYT article concerning a consortium of food companies that is rolling out a "GMO-Free" label comes in the lede:
Alarmed that genetically engineered crops may be finding their way into organic and natural foods, an industry group has begun a campaign to test products and label those that are largely free of biotech ingredients.
Yay! GMO labeling is earth-shakingly popular. Some studies demonstrate close to 95% support for such labels among consumers -- how many issues in this country register support like that?

But the bad news in the recent NYT article on GMO labeling comes at the end. And it's a doozy:
The F.D.A. said it did not have authority to approve labels before they appeared in the marketplace. Once a label is in use, the agency could initiate a review if it received consumer complaints or had concerns the label was misleading.
And who might have "concerns" that the label is "misleading"? Big Food, perhaps?

There's a lot of history here. The food industry has successfully beaten back GMO labeling efforts in the past. And it's worth noting that, while various products may advertise their status as GMO-free, the "Non-GMO Project" that's behind this new label seeks to standardize the labeling effort across the industry (you know, like real governments do).

I found it a bit chilling that the article didn't quote a single representative from one of the major food companies or industry associations. Not typically a group that shrinks from the media, these companies have, no doubt, been advised by their teams of lawyers to keep their traps firmly shut. I wonder how long after the label finally hits the shelves it will be before the injunction against it hits participating companies' doorsteps. Anyone care to wager?

The key questions are 1) where will FDA Chief Margaret Hamburg and her number two Josh Sharfstein come down on this debate and 2) where will former Monsanto exec turned FDA food safety advisor Mike Taylor fit in to all this. The success of the labeling campaign hinges on the answers.

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Blogger Bix said...

I hope it stands. Obama made a campaign promise to require manditory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

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