October 10, 2011

FDA Petition Filed in Renewed Effort for Labeling of GE Food

The Center for Food Safety and a number of other organizations have filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration, asking for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food.  The arguments are centered on their reading of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. § 301 et seq), which prohibits "misleading" food labels; the petition argues that the lack of information regarding genetically engineered ingredients makes a label misleading.  Other arguments center on establishing the level of alteration to the food by genetic engineering; interesting, this argument relies on the use of novelty arguments used in the patenting of GE food for support.  The petition further alleges the presence of environmental harms from such crops to further bolster the need for labeling.  This lawsuit follows other failed attempts to get the courts to order the FDA to require GE food labeling; for example, in Alliance for Bio-Integrity, et. al. v. Shalala (D.D.C. 2000), the court refused to find the FDA's determination that a genetically engineered component is "generally regarded as safe (GRAS)" and not in need of labeling as either arbitrary or capricious.  In a 1992 policy document, the FDA stated that "the agency does not believe that the method of development of a new plant variety (including the use of new techniques including recombinant DNA techniques) is normally material information within the meaning of 21 U.S.C. 321(n) and would not usually be required to be disclosed in labeling for the food."  This summary of recent poll data shows overwhelming consumer support for GE food labeling; the court have not been receptive to this argument as a basis for requiring the FDA to act. See, e.g, International Dairy Foods Association v. Amestoy (2nd Cir. 1996), in which the court was not persuaded that the satisfaction of consumer labeling demands was a significant enough government interest to overcome the First Amendment challenge by dairy farmers to the labeling of milk produced from cows enriched with growth hormone).

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