As sales of non-GMO labeled products eclipsed $10 billion in 2014 and continues to pace at double digit growth, consumer and food industry advocates pressure the FDA and USDA to provide a clear guidance to what and what not constitutes foods free of genetically modified organisms. Current definitions and mandatory labeling laws vary from state to state, potentially leading to regulatory challenges for suppliers whose products are sold in multiple states, and confusion among consumers, who are paying more attention to such labels.
A Nielsen consumer survey found that 80 percent of respondents would pay a premium for non-GMO foods, though most say they don’t trust food labels. The independent Non-GMO Project, so far the most successful non-profit agency that has iussued guidelines for GMO-free foods, lists more than 24,500 products to date bearing the NON-GMO seal. Some of the Global Food Safety Initiative standards, such as IFS Food, the leading European standard, also audits Non-GMO records of food companies in Europe and the US.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a guidance of voluntary labeling of GMOs nationwide, but food industry critics demand mandatory labeling laws.
As the Food Safety News reported in February 2015:
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) reintroduced legislation February 12 to label genetically engineered (GE) food.
The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to label GE food and foods containing GE ingredients.
“Consumers have a right to know what is in the foods they eat and parents have a right to know what they are feeding their families,” Boxer said.
“We cannot continue to keep Americans in the dark about the food they eat,” DeFazio said. “More than sixty other countries make it easy for consumers to choose. Why should the U.S. be any different?”
In 1992, FDA stated that it had no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.
FDA currently supports voluntary labeling in which food manufacturers indicate whether their products have or have not been developed through genetic engineering, “provided such labeling is truthful and not misleading.”
“The public wants more information about the food they are buying and how it’s grown,” said chef Tom Colicchio, who joined the lawmakers and advocates from Just Label It, Food Policy Action, Environmental Working Group and Center for Food Safety at a press conference announcing the bill. “I applaud Sens. Boxer and Blumenthal and Rep. DeFazio for their leadership and urge their colleagues to join them in standing up for the 93 percent of Americans who want to know whether their food has been genetically modified.”
To date, the Just Label It campaign has collected 1.4 million signatures on its petition to FDA seeking mandatory labeling of GE foods.