November 7, 2013

GMO Food Labeling Defeated in Washington State

Voters in Washington State rejected a proposal on Tuesday, November 5th, to  require special labeling for genetically engineered/modified foods. Initiative 522 received a great deal of publicity, primarily as a result of corporate advertising.
Is the defeat of this initiative a good thing or a bad thing?
What is genetically engineered food?
 According to the World Health Organization: “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species."

Why would anyone genetically engineer food? Reasons include: for an innovative taste, higher nutritional benefit, or increased resistance to pesticides or plant diseases.  As of 2011, the U.S. leads a list of multiple countries in the production of GMO crops, and 25 GM crops had received regulatory approval to be grown commercially. As of 2013, roughly 85% of corn, 91% of soybeans, and 88% of cotton produced in the United States are genetically modified.”

The FDA and WHO both consider the genetically engineered foods in the current food supply to be safe. Examples of foods modified by traditional methods include nectarines (genetically altered peaches) and  tangelos (hybrid of tangerine and grapefruit).  Genetically engineered foods common in the US food supply include soybeans, sugar beets, zucchini, corn, and papaya.

Modern genetic engineering differs from traditional methods in the technologies used (recombinant DNA and cell fusion vs cross pollination), but offer greater predictability and precision in the new breed of plants produced. Scientists are able to isolate genes and introduce new traits into foods without introducing undesirable traits, as would occur with traditional techniques.

Proponents of mandatory GMO food labeling seek revised labeling in the name of transparency, with concerns that consumers need to know what chemicals and allergens may be present in their foods.

Opponents to the revised labeling standards note that GMO labeling would raise food prices (as seen in Europe), intensify misconceptions about GMO  foods being dangerous, remove GMO foods from market, and slow growth in 3rd world nutrition advances, which use GMOs.

The Food and Drug Administration oversees food safety in the US, including genetically engineered foods. According to the FDA website:  “Under the FD&C Act, food labeling that is false or misleading is generally prohibited. Food labeling is misleading if it fails to reveal "material" facts—information that is material in light of statements made or suggested on the label, or material with respect to consequences that may result from the use of the food."

The FDA currently supports voluntary food labeling, as long as it is not misleading.


The CECON Group  has been providing science and engineering consultants to companies and law firms since 1985. Consultants include experts in the areas of Biotechnology, FDA Regulations, Regulatory Compliance, Labeling, and Food Safety.

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