Legislators Support Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods

by McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP

[author: Donald Zuhn]

Last week, in a letter sent to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Hamburg, 55 members of Congress expressed support for a recent petition to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods.  The petition, which was filed with the FDA by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) last October, is part of the "Just Label It" campaign that currently has the support of almost 400 organizations and businesses.  At the CFS' website focusing on the issue, the group has collected nearly one million comments from the public in support of its labeling efforts.

In their letter to Commissioner Hamburg, the legislators contend that the "FDA's regulatory regime for food labeling is inadequate and uses 19th century concepts to regulate 21st century food technologies."  Noting that the FDA, in a 1992 policy statement, permitted genetically engineered (GE) foods to be marketed without labeling unless "materially" different from other (non-genetically engineered) foods, and "severely limited what it considered 'material' to only changes in food that could be recognized by taste, smell, or other senses," the group argues that "[t]he use of novel food technologies like genetic engineering on a commercial scale has so far slipped underneath FDA's limited threshold for 'materiality' because such technologies make silent, genetic, and molecular changes to food that are not capable of being detected by human senses."

The legislators accuse the FDA of failing to failing to "revisit[] the scientific or legal merits" of the agency's "outdated GE food labeling policy" when the agency crafted a policy for genetically engineered animals in 2009.  The GE animals standard led to the FDA's recent consideration of a GE salmon intended for human consumption.

The group states that "[l]abeling foods doesn't imply a product is unsafe or will be confusing to consumers as some may argue," and would merely provide consumers with "the fundamental right . . . to make informed choices about the food they eat."  The letter closes by urging the Commissioner "to fairly review the facts, law, and science, and side with the American public by requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods as is done in nearly 50 countries throughout the world."

Senators signing the letter included Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).  Representatives signing the letter included Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Sam Farr (D-CA), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Jim McDermott (D-WA), James Moran (D-VA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Howard Berman (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Bob Filner (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Michael Honda (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), John Tierney (D-MA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Peter Defazio (D-OR), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), George Miller (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Peter Welch (D-VT), Hansen Clarke (D-MI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), John Olver (D-MA), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Pete Stark (D-CA), Robert Brady (D-PA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Diana Degette (D-CO), Barney Frank (D-MA), Janice Hahn (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), James McGovern (D-MA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Mel Watt (D-NC), and Maxine Waters (D-CA).  For those keeping score, the vast majority of signatories (53) are Democrats, with a single independent and a single Republican also signing the letter.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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