States like Connecticut, Washington and California are taking a hard look at labeling food products with genetically modified ingredients, with advocates saying consumers have the right to know. Best Food Facts expert Dr. Peggy Lemaux was interviewed on the subject for a recent NPR story focused on the California initiative.
A spokeswoman for California Right to Know, the group that filed the petition for the state-wide vote, said, "Polls show that nine out of ten California voters agree that they want labeling."
NPR reported that "a new analysis of the labeling initiative suggests that if it passes, it would create a complex mandate for food companies that may make it harder — not easier — for consumers to figure out what's really in their food. That's because the initiative muddies the definition of a 'natural' food."
In fact, 'natural' has not been defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and FDA maintains that foods derived from genetically engineered plants must meet the same safety and legal standards as foods derived from their non-genetically engineering counterparts. Food system experts told us, “The National Academy of Sciences and other leading research institutions agree that GE foods present no unique risks, or greater risks, than non-GE foods. In fact, because GE foods are intensively tested for safety while most other foods are not, GE foods are probably safer than most foods on the market today."
Members of California Right to Know want processed foods or raw ingredients that were produced using genetic engineering to say so on the package, and they don't want those foods to use the 'natural' label either.
In NPR's interview with Dr. Lemaux, she said that 'natural' could be interpreted in two ways:
"One way is that processed foods could be labeled 'natural' only if they are free of GE ingredients." But Lemaux says the initiative could also be interpreted as saying that no processed food can be labeled 'natural,' whether or not it is GE or contains GE ingredients.
Per the interview,
Melkan, of Right to Know, says the initiative merely intended to keep food with GE ingredients from being called 'natural.' "The language is clear that non-GE processed foods could still be labeled 'natural,'" says Melkan.
Per a previous inquiry, we learned that the FDA believes GM labeling is unnecessary because of the rigorous safety tests that GM foods undergo prior to being released for public consumption. FDA maintains that genetically modified food is essentially the same as other food and poses no safety risk. Dr. Lemaux, who has done extensive reviews of the scientific literature on GE foods, agrees with the FDA. Per the NPR report,
"This [labeling measure] is not going offer any additional safety to people; it's really not a food safety issue because there's no real evidence this stuff is unsafe," says Lemaux.
What's more, she says, "the GE and natural labels may scare less savvy consumers away from affordable, healthful foods. And, as we've reported before, Americans really don't understand what genetically engineered food is all about."
If you'd like to read the entire NPR story, click here. In the meantime, stay tuned - we'll be exploring the potential for GM labeling and what it means for consumers and food companies in upcoming posts.
Do you think GM food should be labeled?