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By Mary Plessas
The Food and Drug Administration’s role is “protecting the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and products that give off radiation.” However, regarding genetically modified or bioengineered organisms, the FDA seems to be protecting big agri-business over the rights of consumers.
When the FDA approves the sale and consumption of foods produced using biotechnology, it is because the agency has determined that it is materially the same as the traditional counterpart regarding function and nutrition. The agency therefore considers it misleading for a company to label its products as “non-GMO” if it implies that the conventional product is superior to an engineered product.
Of course, there are pros and cons to bioengineered foods, beyond taste and nutrition. On one hand, they may help feed undernourished populations; on the other hand, there may be unknown consequences that put our food supply at risk. Another objection is that genetically engineered crops like soybeans, corn, and cotton allow for greater use of stronger, potentially harmful herbicides. Some consumers may want to choose non-GMO products for environmental reasons, and not because they believe the conventional product is better nutritionally.
But whatever one’s personal opinion is regarding GE-foods, marketers should be able tout whatever virtues they believe their target market cares about, as long as the statements are true. Enforcing the objective truth is what we should expect from the FDA, not deciding which facts are relevant or may be misinterpreted, which is inherently subjective. Legislation recently introduced into the House of Representatives by congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) would require that genetically engineered food be clearly labeled. At a minimum, producers of all-natural foods should be able to advertise that their products are GMO free without impediments from the FDA.