Expert response from Cathleen Enright
Former Executive Director of the Council for Biotechnology Information
Friday, 09/06/2013 17:07
Regarding mandatory labeling requirements in other countries including in the EU, Japan, and Australia, none are based on safety or health concerns. In fact, each of the regulatory authorities in these countries has determined that foods and animal feed made from GMO ingredients is as safe, healthy and nutritious as food and feed made from non GMO ingredients. The wide diversity in the requirements globally demonstrates that the safety, health, or nutrition associated with GMO food had no bearing in the decision to implement mandatory labeling requirements. For example around the world, thresholds for requiring a product be labeled GMO range from 0.9 – 5 percent of the product’s GMO content. GMO oils, sugars, and GMO processing aids such as starches, yeasts and bacteria used to make food are often exempted, as is GMO animal feed. Many of the labeling requirements also are enforced on a discretionary basis or not at all.
This type of labeling makes no sense to us. The US has a history of reserving the use of mandatory labels to convey information to consumers about the safety and nutrition of a product. We support mandatory labeling of food including GMO food, when a food raises a safety or health issue, for example, to alert sensitive populations to the potential presence of an allergen. But mandating a GMO label would tell the consumer nothing about a product’s safety or nutrition value.
As such, we cannot support mandatory labeling of a food just because it was produced with biotechnology. We believe this would convey to consumers that food made from crops grown by farmers who plant our seeds is somehow less safe, nutritious or of inferior quality to its non GM counterpart. Two decades of scientific study and regulatory review around the world simply do not support this.
That said, we agree completely with voluntary labeling of food, including for the presence or absence of GMOs. Such voluntary labels are often used by food manufacturers seeking to promote their product over another’s. But by law, such labels cannot be used to make claims that are false or misleading to consumers including about the safety of a product. Today, you can find voluntary, marketing labels, such as USDA Organic, being used to promote non GMO foods.