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Food Labeling Continues: Let’s Talk About GMOs

Updated: Jul 9


By Ashley Ellixson

Close up of soybean plant with field in the background (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Many of you have asked us to discuss genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling. This post will inform you of the present issues and the state of current regulations regarding genetically modified crops and foods.

Right now there is no Federal law requiring a label stating that a product contains genetically modified products. It is also important to note there is no Federal definition of genetically modified. To clarify, let’s highlight a few definitions of GMO:

Merriam Webster Dictionary – an organism whose genome has been altered in order to favor the expression of desired physiological traits or the output of desired biological products.

World Health Organization – Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.


Corn husks (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

U.S. Department of Agriculture Glossary of Biotechnology: “[a]n organism produced through” “[m]anipulation of an organism’s genes by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA techniques.”

Through these various definitions, we can summarize that a genetically modified organism is one which is altered genetically to create an alternative to the original organism. For example, soybeans have been genetically modified to make a soybean which produces more desirable soybean oil. Now that we understand what a GMO is, let’s take a look at the laws, or lack thereof, floating around the United States.


Genetically Engineered Right-To-Know Act

There is no U.S. Federal law requiring that GMO goods with GMO ingredients be labeled. In March 2013, Federal legislation known as the Genetically Engineered Right-To-Know Act was proposed which would mandate labeling of any GMO food or food with a genetically modified ingredient. This bill has not, however, advanced passed the committee stage.


Three squash (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

With that said, the Food and Drug Administration has the regulatory authority to prevent false and misleading labeling of food. In regards to GMO foods, FDA has stated in policy and guidance documents that if a GMO food is not materially different from its traditional counterpart, there is no need to label or change the name of the product. Thus, name changes are appropriate when a food from a GMO product is so different from the original that the usual name no longer adequately describes the new food, or if safety issues, such as allergens, are at stake. FDA also notes that language such as “this food was made without bioengineered products” can be misleading because it signifies that food without GMO products is superior. FDA advises it will take the entire label into consideration when determining whether the language is adequate or misleading to consumers.

To read more about FDA’s policy and guidance concerning GMOs, please see:

http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm059098.htm


Vermont

On April 23, 2014, Vermont became the first state requiring labeling of GMO foods. Vermont’s legislature approved a bill requiring raw agriculture commodities and processed foods offered for sale in Vermont retail stores, with certain exceptions, to display special labeling if they are entirely or partially produced with genetic modified products. The law will become effective July 1, 2016. Vermont, being the first of its kind among states, will likely face constitutional challenges before the law’s effective date. As far as GMO labeling goes, Vermont’s law should definitely be monitored to see what we can expect from other states, including Maryland, as the GMO labeling movement proceeds.

If you have any questions concerning more in depth GMO labeling issues or constitutional challenges to GMO food labeling, please email me at anewhall@umd.edu


#foodlabeling #foodlaw #foodpolicy #GMO

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