Ex-FDA official praises GMA call for federal GMO labeling rules, but says asking it to define ‘natural’ is a long shot

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Federal gmo labeling Genetically modified organism Genetically modified food Fda

Picture credit: Elodie Planche, La Vie En Green (lavieengreen.com)
Picture credit: Elodie Planche, La Vie En Green (lavieengreen.com)
It might have enraged those in favor of mandatory GMO labeling, but a leaked document outlining the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s (GMA’s) ideas for a federally regulated 'voluntary' approach to this issue has been praised by one ex-FDA official.

Former FDA associate commissioner of foods Dr David Acheson - who now heads up consultancy The Acheson Group - was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after a document outlining the GMA’s proposals for a federal GMO labeling solution was leaked to POLITICO (click here​). 

Having 50 different ways of regulating GMOs is both impractical and costly

Said Acheson: “I think it is excellent that GMA is proposing a process to establish a labeling approach that is uniform. Having 50 different ways of regulating GMOs is both impractical and very costly to food companies and thus to consumers – so having one federal program is a good idea.

“Mandating an FDA review of all new GMO plant based foods is a good step to ensure public health safety… I did not see mention of animal based GMO products – so I wonder where that will fall?

I agree that labeling should be required for safety, but recognize that no food company would put out a GMO food that required such a label.”

Trying to get ‘Natural’ defined is a long shot

But he added: “I think trying to get ‘Natural’ defined is a long shot and FDA has already pushed back on taking that one on​ [click here​] so that may be an unrealistic part of this, but is essentially in addition to the GMO proposal which could stand alone without the ‘Natural’ claim component.”

The real question for 2014 is whether this will become a mainstream issue

Writing in his blog last month about predictions for 2014, he said:“It is likely that we will see more GMO labeling initiatives and a call for a more uniform approaches..

“However, it seems to be a small subset of consumers that really care, so the real question for 2014 is whether this will become a mainstream issue, and how much education will be needed for consumers to understand the full extent of GMOs, including its beneficial uses.”

What does the GMA want?

Among other things, the GMA proposal (which has yet to be introduced in any Bill to Congress) would authorize the FDA to develop regulations allowing manufacturers to make voluntary claims about the absence of GMOs under a new FDA-regulated process. It would also allow for the voluntary ​labeling of GMOs. However, mandatory GMO labels would only be required where the FDA thinks they are needed on safety grounds.

Crucially, these federal regulations would pre-empt any state-led initiatives to mandate GMO labeling, and have outraged groups such as the Just Label It campaign.

The GMA proposal would also require developers of new bioengineered foods to notify the FDA 120 days before they are due to hit the market explaining why they think they are “as safe as a comparable traditional food”.​ The FDA would then review the data and issue a letter of no objection if appropriate. 

Dr David-Acheson-Leavitt-Partners
Dr David Acheson

Finally, the document also urges the FDA to develop a federal definition for ‘natural’ claims on product labels.

FMI: We need national standard for the labeling of non-GMO products

It was leaked as the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) issued a revised policy statement calling for a national standard for non-GMO food products under the purview of the FDA and USDA.

The focus, says the FMI, should be on avoiding "the inconsistent and confusing pitfalls of a state-by-state patchwork GMO labeling system"​.  

It added: "There is also a need to provide unbiased scientific information to the public about genetically modified foods, especially since FDA has determined that genetically engineered foods (GMOs) in the marketplace are safe and do not differ from other foods in any meaningful way.

"This educational information will be most effective if undertaken as a cooperative effort among the agricultural, retail and manufacturing sectors of the food industry, the government and the scientific and consumer advocacy communities."

EWG: If this bill is introduced, we’ll work to ensure that it is dead on arrival

General Mills insists that it proactively reformulated Cheerios to see if consumers would embrace them, and did not do so due to pressure from groups such as GMO Inside, However, the latter has claimed the move as a victory for its campaign

The GMA would not tell FoodNavigator-USA whether it has identified a sponsor for any bill along the lines of its proposal, although POLITICO claimed that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) had been approached.  

Meanwhile, those campaigning for mandatory GMO-labeling at a state and national level have reacted with fury to the leaked document, with Environmental Working Group executive director Andrew Kimbrell pledging to "work to make sure that the public’s right to know is protected and that this bill if introduced, is dead on arrival.”

Click below to read about GMA’s proposals in more detail.

Activists blast moves by GMA to pre-empt state-driven GMO labeling initiatives with new 'federal solution'

 Click on the links below to read more about General Mills’ decision to reformulate original Cheerios to remove GMOs.

Cheerio GMOs! But can General Mills have its non-GMO cake and eat it?

GMO-free Cheerios: Did General Mills buckle to consumer pressure? Will the move backfire?

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Progress, Not Perfection

Posted by Jon Yaffe,

Regarding the definition of "Natural": sure, it's tough to get this totally right. But I would think there are a few points on which we can all agree: I submit that one of these is that GMOs are fabricated. The very characteristics for which they are developed clearly do not exist in any single organism's nature. There is no way they can be consider natural, nor then can ingredients derived from them.
You may not like it, but the term Frankenfood is truly apt.

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The foxes are licking their chops over this one

Posted by Jennifer Christiano,

Wow - talk about the foxes praising the plans to let them guard the henhouse - and even being given the keys so they can safely lock themselves in and the rest of us out! And the consumer (re)"education" component could have come straight out of Mao's little red book.

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Voluntary labelling? You've got to be kidding.

Posted by S. Farrar,

Wondering what impact and effect a cancer warning on cigarette packages would have had if the labeling was "voluntary"?

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