Allowing / Permitting / Forbidding GMO Labels

OK, so the FDA seems unlikely to require the probably-soon-to-be-approved GM salmon to be labelled. See this story by Lyndsey Layton, for the Washington Post: FDA rules won’t require labeling of genetically modified salmon

…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.

Despite a growing public demand for more information about how food is produced, that won’t happen with the salmon because of idiosyncracies embedded in federal regulations.

The FDA says it cannot require a label on the genetically modified food once it determines that the altered fish is not “materially” different from other salmon – something agency scientists have said is true….

But apparently the FDA “not requiring” labelling is easily mistaken for “not permitting” labelling. See, for instance, this story from Raw Story: FDA won’t allow food to be labeled free of genetic modification: report. As far as I can tell, the Raw Story just gets it wrong. According to the Washington Post story (which Raw Story cites)…

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.

Now, it’s true that the FDA doesn’t permit misleading forms of labelling. And so (for example) the Washington Post story points out that the FDA has reprimanded food companies that have been sloppy in their use of various sorts of “GM-Free” labels. But that’s only fair. I am strongly in favour of permitting clear and accurate voluntary labelling, but that labelling must be done in such a way that it actually informs consumers — all kinds of consumers — rather than confusing them further.


About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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4 Responses to Allowing / Permitting / Forbidding GMO Labels

  1. cindy adra says:

    Hi Chris,
    While I understand your position that the FDa does not want MISLEADING forms of handling implying that non gmo foods are more healthy ergo gmo goods are less healthy, to me you are missing the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that the general population does not necessarily agree with the FDA that gmo products are safe,healthy and contain the same benefits as non gmo food. They want the label s so they can decide for themselves. if a company chooses a label such as a circle with a slash through the letters GMO, it indicates to me the company’s position on gmo foods which I may agree with and the fda may disagree with. I may be more inclined to purchase foods from them because they have the same outlook on food as I do. The FDA is a government agency , not the absolute last word on anything , in my opinion. Furthermore, espicially with non-processed food, my relationship with what I eat is strongly connected to my spiritual beliefs and that in order for all food to be beneficial it must come directly from the “source”. The further away food gets from the “source” the less nutrition it has. I could go into a long discourse here on what else we get from our food beside the vitamins and minerals and how it connects us to all other life, but it would be too long. Suffice it to say, I do not want the FDA modifying in any way food I eat or telling companies how to label their product. It becomes another way the populace gets dumbed down, treating people as if they are too stupid to choose for themselves.

  2. Ben says:

    The FDA is stuffed full of corporate cronies. I’ve decided to quit eating salmon period. I recommend everyone learn to get food from local producers who are committed to producing non GMO food. The FDA is pretty clear here that it will not allow those of us who believe GMO food is deadly poison to protect ourselves at the grocery store.

    This is insulting “The term “GMO free” may be misleading on most foods, because most foods do not contain organisms (seeds and foods like yogurt that contain microorganisms are exceptions). It would likely be misleading to suggest that a food that ordinarily would not contain entire “organisms” is “organism free.” How can these people be in charge of anything remotely related to science. Last time I checked yogurt bacteria are no more or less organisms than corn plants, cattle, or salmon. Here’s the dictionary definition of organism. “a form of life considered as an entity; an animal, plant, fungus, protistan, or moneran. ”

    Most foods do not contain organisms? How about a new rule where you have to pass 6th grade science class with at least a C before you get to be an FDA official.

    • Ben:

      Thanks for your comment.

      No, I don’t think the FDA is, as you suggest, merely mistaken about what an organism is. I take it their point is that most foods don’t contain entire organisms — they contain parts of organisms. The coffee I’m currently drinking contains no organisms — though its key ingredient is derived from one. In that sense, most foods are “organism free.” So, the FDA is simply pointing out that labelling something as “organism free” may be misleading in the same way that “cholesterol free” can be misleading for a product (like potato chips) that don’t usually contain cholesterol in the first place.

      There may be other reasons to disagree with the FDA’s rule, here, but misunderstanding science isn’t it.


  3. Pingback: Truthiness and Fairness on GMO Labels at FDA | Center for Environmental HealthCenter for Environmental Health

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