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FDA: No labeling of genetically engineered food

FDA will not require labeling of meat or fish from genetically engineered animals
Consumers Union says decision ignores consumer right to choose

January 15, 2009 — Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, today said that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blatantly ignored consumers’ right to choose what they eat after the FDA announced that it will not require labeling on meat or fish from genetically engineered animals.
The Bush administration, which is in charge of the FDA for just two more working days, today announced Final Guidance on Regulation of Genetically Engineered Animals. The FDA Guidance states that FDA will require such animals to go through a mandatory safety approval process, a decision Consumers Union supports. However FDA will not require any labeling.
A recent Consumers Union poll found that 95 percent of consumers favor labeling of meat and milk from genetically engineered animals.
Genetically engineered animals may contain genetic material from entirely different species, even humans. For example, last week an FDA advisory committee reviewed the safety of a goat engineered with human genes so that it would produce a human blood thinner in the goat’s milk. “This animal is intended for use in drug production, but what if FDA found that it is also safe for use as food? Without labeling, consumers would have no way to know this meat was in their butcher shop,” said Michael Hansen, PhD, a senior scientist at Consumers Union. Products under development for supermarket distribution include pork where mouse genes have been put into pigs to help them metabolize phosphorous more efficiently, and salmon that has been engineered with genes from other fish to make them grow twice as fast as normal.
“Despite thousands of comments from consumers saying they want to know if engineered meat or fish is in their supermarket, FDA claims these foods are not different from conventional food, and therefore don’t need to be labeled,” stated Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “This flies in the face of consumer opinion and common sense. These foods should be labeled because they are different–in FDA’s terms the presence of novel genes is a material fact,” Halloran stated.
Hansen added, “If a company engineered a cow with human genes to make the meat more tender, FDA would appropriately evaluate it only on the scientific safety issues. However consumers and society in general have additional concerns, and we think it is essential that products be labeled, so consumers can act on their individual ethics and values.”
Halloran said, “This one-minute-to-midnight regulation is a final favor to industry delivered as the current FDA Administrator goes out the door.” FDA Commissioner Von Eschenbach’s resignation is effective January 20. “We hope the new Obama administration will reverse this ill-considered guidance and require labeling of genetically engineered meat and milk products as soon as possible after it takes office next week.”

Media contact:
David Butler, Consumers Union, butlda@consumer.org
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers