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Senators Warren, Udall Urge FDA to Finalize Guidance on GMO Labeling

Sep 18, 2013

GMO labeling continues to be a controversial issue, with an upcoming November vote on a ballot initiative to require labels on food packaging in Washington State and the recent defeat of a similar ballot initiative in California. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined the fray, asking the Food and Drug Administration for guidance on voluntary GMO labeling.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Warren and co-signer Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) called for the agency to finalize a draft document first issued in January 2001 and to “implement a regulatory framework for the standardization of labeling policies for GMO and non-GMO foods.”

The draft guidance calls for food manufacturers, should they choose to identify foods as containing GMOs, to use statements that explain how the food was modified through genetic engineering and to avoid the phrase “GMO free” for foods that have not been modified.

The FDA draft guidance explains that “the term ‘GMO free’ may be misleading for most foods, because most foods do not contain organisms … and it would likely be misleading to suggest that a food that ordinarily would not contain entire ‘organisms’ is ‘organism free.’”

The response to Senator Warren’s letter was mixed. Advocates for mandatory GMO labeling criticized the announcement, fearing the FDA guidance might be used to circumvent the tougher standards they seek. Warren’s action has left groups like the Center for Food Safety and the Organic Consumers Association confused, believing that Warren would support GMO labeling in light of her reputation as a champion of consumer protection.

However, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said it supports “FDA’s existing science-based labeling policy with respect to foods and food ingredients derived from modern biotechnology. We believe that the FDA policy provides a comprehensive framework for consumer protection and choice, including the use of voluntary labels, and clearly serves the public interest.”

IDFA has joined with GMA and a coalition of food manufacturing and retail companies to support science-based and national standards for labeling guidelines. IDFA will continue to work with the food sector coalition and follow legislative efforts on this issue.

For further information, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, at rsaunders@idfa.org or Jerry Slominiski, senior vice president of legislative affairs and economic policy, at jslominski@idfa.org.