Monsanto and other agricultural biotech companies support FDA labeling. Their guidance is that labeling is mandatory to provide nutrition and health information. Voluntary labeling, such as under the National Organic Program, should be accurate and not misleading. Like labeling a product organic, stating that a food product does not contain GMOs is voluntary, and provides no nutritional or health information. The National Organic Program (NOP) was established within USDA-Ag Marketing Service in 2002. Much like the labeling discussion today, the NOP was established based on the need for a single national organic standard that did away with potentially conflicting and confusing state standards. Further to the point of the organic label not providing nutrition or health information, here are a couple of significant quotes:
- “The USDA Organic Seal does not and cannot signify any health or safety criteria whatsoever. It only certifies that products were produced using non-synthetic inputs.” (John Block, Secretary of Ag 1981-86 Editorial Des Moines Register)
- “Let me be clear about one thing, the organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.” (Secretary of Ag Dan Glickman who oversaw the implementation of the USDA organic certification program)
The biotechnology industry position, which coincides with the position of both the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), relative to labeling of genetically modified (GM) products, is that GM products that have been approved for commercialization, have been deemed as safe and nutritious as their non-GM plant counterparts and therefore require no additional labeling. If a product were to go through an FDA evaluation process and was found to have a health safety concern, then the U.S. government agency (FDA) would require upon approval and commercialization of that product (and subsequent inclusion of that product) into the food supply to consumers that it be mandatorily labeled to reflect the health safety issue. This requirement is the same for both GM and non-GM food materials. Let’s take for example food products that have been identified as having allergen characteristics. Any product (GM or non-GM) would need to identify on its label that it had this potential health risk characteristic. Just because a product is created through a specific breeding technology doesn’t determine its potential around a health safety. Regarding your question about organic labeling, both GM and organic labeling currently fall under a voluntary labeling system here in the United States. Recently the FDA released its new guidance around voluntary labeling of both these food types. For more information on this guidance, please visit the FDA website.
You are correct that organic food does not differ in nutrition or pose a health risk. The labeling of organic food is managed by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Program, which does not make any claims that organic food differs in nutrition or poses a health risk. It defines “organic” as a “labeling term that indicated that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.” More information on the organic program and labeling of organic foods can be found at these links. It is important to note that this is a voluntary labeling process, not a mandatory one, and the biotech industry is supportive of this type of voluntary labeling scheme. This means that if a food company chooses not to label its organic food with the organic seal, it is totally the company’s choice, but most probably choose to do so to get the price premium that some consumers are willing to pay.
As explained in a previous answer to the question,” Why are companies against labeling GMO foods?”:
“In the United States, foods are labeled according to FDA policy, which requires a label ‘anytime a food differs from its conventional counterpart in a meaningful way, such as a reduction in nutrients, the introduction of an allergen or even a change in taste or smell.’ The purpose of mandatory food labeling is to convey information to consumers about the safety and nutrition of a product. It is critical that labels be factual, verifiable, understandable and not misleading. As Cathy Enright states, ‘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.’
“Enright further explains, ‘But we cannot support the mandatory labeling of GMO food just because the food in the market was produced using genetic engineering, for example, in wine, yogurt or bread made with GM yeast, vegetable oil made from GM soybeans or cereal sweetened with GM sugar. These foods are as safe and nutritious as their non-GMO counterparts, as determined by recognized authorities around the world.’”
If you have any additional questions, please ask.
When talking about the voluntary labeling of organic food versus mandatory labeling of GMOs, we’re actually comparing proverbial apples and oranges. Please let me explain the difference, and that may help you understand how we can support these two positions at the same time.
The USDA certified organic seal is an indication that a grower has voluntarily worked to achieve certification under the National Organic Program (NOP), a marketing program that is administered by USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS). The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a Federal Advisory Committee appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, developed a strict set of regulations and guidelines for the production, handling and labeling of crops — including specifications for soil management and the exclusion of synthetic chemicals (though there are exceptions) and genetically engineered seeds — that growers must adhere to in order for their product to earn the certified organic seal and therefore achieve the price premium that is associated with that label.
Nutritional and safety labeling for foods falls under the purview of FDA, and we move from a voluntary marketing-based certification program described above to federally mandated guidelines. A mandatory label, such as nutritional information or the list of ingredients on most packaged foods, is required by federal law. As we’ve noted before, we do support mandatory labeling of food, including GM food, if such food presents a safety risk to a certain population — for example, those allergic to a food ingredient like soy.
Absent of a health or safety risk, though, the FDA has determined that “there is no significant difference between foods produced using bio-engineering, as a class, and their conventional counterparts.” Hundreds of independent studies have also confirmed the safety of GMOs (and regulatory authorities around the world agree). We cannot support a label that conveys to consumers that foods made from the farmers’ crops grown with GM seeds are less safe than, less nutritious than or somehow different from conventional or organic food. We believe a government requirement to label GMO food would do just this.
We support farmers’ right to choose what’s best for their business and a consumer’s right to choose the type of food they want — hence our support for the voluntary USDA organic label, as well as other non-GMO labels. And unless there is a compositional difference or an identified health and safety risk, we support the current FDA guidelines that do not require a federally mandated label indicating a food or food ingredient is GMO.
Personally, I can’t answer for Monsanto, but it has discussed its position on labeling in another post on this website. Here is an excerpt from a response from Lisa Drake, lead for state and local government affairs at Monsanto. She explains, “Although Monsanto doesn’t sell food or have products that can be labeled for consumers, we support food companies’ choices to voluntarily label food products, noting certain attributes (e.g., organic or GMO-free) based on their customers’ preferences and provided the labeling is truthful and not misleading.”