Accurate and Informative Food Product Labeling
"Seventy percent of consumers
surveyed either support or do not oppose the FDA policy on
the labeling of foods produced through biotechnology."
International Food Information Council
Americans' Acceptance of Food Biotechnology
Matches Growers' Increased Adoption of
Biotech Crops (May 2003)
Food and Drug Administration's policy on the labeling
of biotech foods ensures consumer safety and protection, and
encourages the continued development and support for food
biotechnology. This policy is broadly supported throughout
agriculture, which seeks to benefit from improved crops, and
the food industry, which strives to maintain the trust and
safety of the public.
The FDA requires that any food, whether it
is developed through biotechnology or another method, must
carry a specific label if its nutritional profile or other
characteristics are significantly different from its traditionally
grown counterpart. Such a label would describe the new characteristic
of the food and how it differs from the traditional food.
For example, if a food were developed to contain more vitamin
C, a label would be required to indicate that the food contains
higher levels of vitamin C than is traditionally expected.
However, if a producer wants to indicate
the particular method that was used or not used to change
or improve the nutritional profile and other characteristics
of a food, the FDA has provided draft voluntary guidelines
for labeling such products. For instance, a producer could
follow these guidelines to say that a particular product was
developed through biotechnology, or that a particular product
was not developed by biotechnology.
Biotech varieties of corn, cotton, soybeans,
papaya and canola are commonly grown by American farmers and
appear in various forms as ingredients throughout the food
and feed supply. None of these crops is deemed by the FDA
to be substantially different from their traditional counterparts,
and, as such, do not require any specific labels. To date,
no biotech foods have been developed and commercialized that
would require a specific label.
The food industry supports the FDA requirement
for labeling any food, biotech or otherwise, that is substantially
different from a traditionally produced food. In the interests
of safety and consumer awareness, and to maintain confidence
in the U.S. food supply, labels on all packaged food must
provide consumers with truthful, clear and non-misleading
Those who favor the mandatory labeling of
any food derived through biotechnology contend that consumer
choice is sacrificed by the current policy. However, opinion
polls show that consumers would perceive a biotech food label
as a "warning" that the product is less than safe or healthful
than its non-biotech alternative, even though extensive testing
demonstrates that this conclusion is not true. Thus, such
a mandatory label would mislead consumers into perceiving
a risk that does not exist, and therefore might result in
the kind of confusion that labels are designed to avoid.
Current Law and Policy
In 1992 the FDA established a policy that
all foods derived through biotechnology be regulated in the
same fashion as those developed through traditional methods.
- Products of food biotechnology are subject
to the same FDA labeling and safety policies applied to
all foods in the U.S. marketplace.
- Different labeling is required when, for
example, biotechnology results in a significant change in
the composition of a food product. Developing new oils
that actually lower cholesterol levels would be an example
of a substantial composition change.
- FDA requires a label on biotechnology
products, as needed, to inform consumers of any potential
health or safety risk, such as if a protein poses an allergy
risk. Common allergens include milk, eggs, wheat, fish,
crustacia, tree nuts, and legumes (such as peanuts and soybeans).
Peanuts are a common allergen. If a peanut gene that
causes the allergic reaction is inserted into potatoes or
corn - products where consumers would not expect to find
peanut allergens - the resulting product would need a label
to inform sensitive consumers.
- A label also is required if a food is
changed so that its nutritional content no longer conforms
to the normal expectations. Altering the Vitamin C content
of an orange to levels significantly above the normal range
is a good example.
- The FDA is able to evaluate the safety
of biotech ingredients added to foods in the same way it
evaluates any new ingredient, such as a new preservative
or a new food-coloring agent.
- The FDA can stop a food product from being
sold at any time if it determines that a product or ingredient
is unsafe for public consumption or if it is mislabeled.
- Labels provide a consumer's first impression
of most packaged food products. Labels list ingredients,
describe features, give instructions, explain benefits and
deliver advisories and warnings. Information considered
essential to health and safety is mandated by law to appear
on the label.
- Labeling of biotech foods differently
from their traditional counterparts would have the unintended
and unfortunate consequence of misleading consumers into
thinking that biotech products have different health effects.