No Room For Politics On Food Labels

Robin Y. Woo, Ph.D.
Director, Ceres Forum,
Georgetown University Center for Food and Nutrition Policy
May 11, 2000
Published in The Des Moines Register

Freedom of choice is what America is about, and we have established a government to enforce that right and protect the public well-being.

The public's favorite regulatory agency is the Food and Drug Administration; it routinely attracts 70-80 percent approval. Its job is to ensure the safety and efficacy of all our food and drugs; all claims on those products must be true and not misleading. FDA's decisions must be based upon sound science, and its regulatory process must be open to public scrutiny.

The debate about safety and labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods is political, not scientific. In fact, some of the best scientists in the country just issued a report from the National Academy of Sciences verifying that all approved GM products are as safe as their conventional counterparts. These foods have been tested for safety more than any others in history.

FDA can and should only require information on labels that is scientifically proven to be important to human health, such as fat content, cholesterol and calories. Labeling a product merely to say it contains an ingredient that is derived from a GM crop is not important to human health. If the genetic modification causes a change in nutrients, toxicants or allergens in the food, of course FDA requires a label.

Labels currently provide the general information consumers need should they choose to avoid GM products. Since 55 percent of U.S. soy and 25 percent of U.S. corn are GM, processed foods with corn or soy ingredients have a high probability of GM content. Soon consumers can choose to avoid GM by selecting the new "organic" foods designated by USDA. Or they can pick those (voluntarily) labeled GM-free, as the FDA has suggested.

FDA respects the value of human life and "the need to know" of the consumers it serves. It is not in the best interests of the public for FDA to accede to political demands that would erode the carefully constructed science-based system that protects our health.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

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