Ask Us Anything About GMOs!

Q:
On what logic do you reason one should only be informed about what they consume if there is an immediate safety risk? Quotes a-kin to the following appear in multiple answers: "...if such food presents a safety risk to a certain population, for example those allergic to a food ingredient." Why does this 'if' exist in the first place? Shouldn't the interpretation of the meaning of 'safety' be up to an intelligently informed individual? The whole purpose of any labels on food, any caloric indicators, any warning labels you find anywhere isn't for the "safety" of those already consuming it. It's so those who are interested in consuming it can make a coherent decision on whether or not they desire to purchase the product in the first place. The idea of "after-the-fact" informing of customers seems counterintuitive and like the person writing the opinion has a backwards process of thought. You don't go to a store and buy food and read the labels after you get home only to find you built your whole diet around protein and forgot any other nutrients, or that you happened to buy foods containing things you're allergic to. This is why labels exist.
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A:Expert Answer

I have to admit that I’m a little unsure about what you’re asking.  Ingredients and nutritional values are provided on a food label so that individuals can make informed decisions, including about safety, when purchasing a product. If one of those ingredients is a known allergen (a recognized safety hazard), that ingredient is also highlighted in a separate statement on the package.

 

Perhaps you’re making the assumption that the process of genetically engineering a seed will create a safety hazard?  This is taken into consideration when developing a biotech crop and tested for extensively prior to commercialization.  If a safety issue is identified, that crop is not brought to market.  This earlier response from Lisa Katic, a registered dietitian, addresses such a scenario: http://gmoanswers.com/ask/there-good-evidence-inserting-genes-allergenic-organisms-those-dont-normally-contain-them-will.

 

While FDA doesn’t require a label that indicates how a seed is produced - whether it was formed through selective breeding, tissue culture, mutagenesis (using radiation), or transgenesis (“GMO”) - a food label must reflect a change in the composition or nutritional value of a food or ingredient, when compared to its conventional counterpart, regardless of how the seed was made. For example, if Golden Rice was to be commercialized and sold in the U.S., it would be labeled as being engineered to contain higher levels of beta carotene.

 

Lastly, the logic that dictates what must be included on a food label is federal law. Specifically, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act; the Fair Packaging and Label Act; the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act; and related FDA guidance. If this is an area you are interested in learning more about, please take a look at FDA’s Food Labeling Guide.

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