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From Saturday's WAPO:

FDA rules won't require labeling of genetically modified salmon

By Lyndsey Layton
Saturday, September 18, 2010; 11:20 PM

As the Food and Drug Administration considers whether to approve genetically modified salmon, one thing seems certain: Shoppers staring at fillets in the seafood department will find it tough to pick out the conventional fish from the one created with genes from another species.

[snip]

Perhaps more surprising, conventional food makers say the FDA has made it difficult for them to boast that their products do not contain genetically modified ingredients.

[snip]

The labeling matter is further complicated because the FDA has maintained a tough stance for food makers who don't use genetically engineered ingredients and want to promote their products as an alternative. The agency allows manufacturers to label their products as not genetically engineered as long as those labels are accurate and do not imply that the products are therefore more healthful.

[snip]

It told the maker of Spectrum Canola Oil that it could not use a label that included a red circle with a line through it and the words "GMO," saying the symbol suggested that there was something wrong with genetically engineered food.

So the FDA will likely not require labelling, and might even FORBID it. Inverted totalianarism indeed.

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goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

It seems conventional wisdom to detest automatically anything that is genetically modified. Is there a particular hazard from this fish?
Genetic modification happens in nature all the time. Heck, we've got viral DNA in our own sequences that get passed down over thousands of generations. We're modified anytime there's a serious threat posed by our biosphere. So it is possible to genetically engineer some quality into fish. And...? What's the problem?

Submitted by Randall Kohn on

Or maybe because the science isn't really proven? Or because of FDA regulatory capture?

If it's not labelled, no one can make hie/her own choice on GMO food. Even worse, the vendors may be FORBIDDEN to label it.

In Europe this stuff MUST be labelled. Consequently no one buys it and hardly anyone sells it. But hey, I'm sure you're right and the whole damn world is wrong.

Submitted by WRhouse on

some people might be allergic to the inserted genetic material and might not want to put their life at risk. If you don't have all the information, you can't make an informed choice.

JG's picture
Submitted by JG on

I can't say whether or not it works in practice, but the FDA policy cited in the article sounds about right to me:

The FDA maintains it can only require labeling if a genetically engineered food is somehow different from the conventional version - if it has an unusual texture, taste, nutritional component or allergen, for example.

Without this sort of criterion, mandatory labeling could easily get out of control.

As for restricting labeling, blocking the "no-GMO" symbol might go a bit too far, but again it's perfectly reasonable to forbid health claims that lack evidence.

JG's picture
Submitted by JG on

My point is that it doesn't make sense to mandate labeling for whatever issue is currently popular. Can you suggest a better criterion than what I quoted? Otherwise, we can come up with a huge list of items that people might want to have on all food labels:

  • Use of GMOs (and a list of specific modifications)
  • Use of a mutant variety (a more primitive form of GMO created using induced mutations and selective breeding)
  • Use of pesticides (with a list of specific pesticides)
  • Energy sources used in growing/preparing the food (coal/nuclear/wind/solar)
  • Wages paid to workers on the farm
  • Precise details of the cultivar (Is that really an original Gala apple, or is it one of the many derived varieties?)
  • Religious practices of the workers
  • Was the field irrigated using copper or PVC pipes?
  • etc.

Aside from mandatory labeling, food producers are free to say that their food is GMO-free, provided that the claim is truthful, and that they don't make any unjustified implicit or explicit health claims.