The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) announced that it opposes federally mandated voluntary GMO labeling in favor of states’ rights to enforce mandatory GMO labeling, arguing that voluntary labeling could end state GMO laws and legitimate non-GMO-certified labels.
The nonprofit organization is asking consumers to petition Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) to rescind their recent letter to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which urged the agency to finalize its policies on voluntary GMO labeling. Instead, the OCA urges consumers to support states’ rights to enact laws requiring mandatory GMO labeling and/or support the federal mandatory labeling from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), S. 809.
“The OCA supports food manufacturers and retailers who voluntarily label GMOs, as long as those claims are backed up by third-party independent verification through, for instance, the Non-GMO Project, or by legally binding affidavits from the suppliers of ingredients that are likely to contain GMOs,” Katherine Paul, the OCA's director of communications and development, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Although the word “voluntary” was absent from Warren and Udall’s Aug. 22 letter, the OCA argues that the FDA document referenced in the letter only applies to voluntary labeling. Given that the FDA has previously ruled that GMO and non-GMO foods are “substantially equivalent”, the FDA could rule against non-GMO or GMO-free labels on the basis that they mislead consumers by implying that there’s a difference between GMO and non-GMO foods.
Legitimate, GMO-free voluntary labeling laws could be overturned
“Under that argument, the FDA could rule against any labeling of GMOs—voluntary or mandatory under state laws—by saying that labeling GMOs implies there's a difference; specifically, that non-GMO ingredients are superior to GMO-free ingredients,” Paul said.
“This is what the FDA tried to do when producers of rBGH-free milk wanted to label their product rBGH-free. The FDA said they couldn't. The courts ultimately sided with the rBGH-free dairies, because it was possible to prove a compositional difference between milk that contains rBGH and non-rBGH milk.
"That could be more difficult to do with sugar from GMO sugar beets, or high fructose corn syrup from GMO corn.”
The FDA could also use that same argument to say that retailers and food manufactures aren’t allowed to certify a product as GMO-free—meaning the legitimate, GMO-free voluntary labeling programs that now exist would be outlawed.
Currently, states have the right to enact GMO labeling laws because the FDA has not formally ruled on GMO labeling.
“Ninety-three percent of consumers want mandatory GMO labeling laws, either state or federal,” Paul added. “Voluntary labeling would give food manufacturers a free pass to continue using GMO ingredients without providing that information to consumers.”
As of press time, the OCA's petition had received more than 26,800 signatures.