By Casey Wooten
June 29 — Parts of compromise Senate legislation to create a nationwide labeling standard for genetically modified foods are “problematic” and could “raise confusion,” the FDA said in comments to lawmakers.
The Food and Drug Administration's technical assistance examines the draft GMO bill released June 23 by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). In its comments, the agency said the bill's definition of bioengineering is narrow and would leave out some foods made with genetic engineering. The FDA also said that Agriculture Department rules implementing the bill may compete with the FDA's own required labels for space on small packages.
The agency's comments give ammunition to Senate opponents of the compromise GMO bill just as Roberts and Stabenow work to shore up enough votes to advance the legislation.
A vote hasn't been scheduled for the bill, which would preempt a Vermont labeling law set to go into effect July 1. Dealmaking could stretch well into July, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said he would put a hold on the bill (See previous story, 06/29/16).
The legislation defines bio-engineered food as having “genetic material that has been modified through in-vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques.” In its comments, the FDA said that definition would leave out some products made with ingredients produced from GE crops, such oil from soy, certain starches and purified proteins because they no longer contain genetic material.
Another part of the bill would limit its coverage to foods where genetic modification “could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”
The FDA said that language may further limit the scope of the bill.
“It may be difficult to demonstrate that a particular modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding (or even that it could not occur in nature),” the FDA said.
The FDA made clear that the use of genetic engineering in foods has not presented safety concerns, and has not called for disclosure on packaging.
“In the absence of reliable data indicating any safety concerns with bioengineered foods as a class, FDA has not expressed a desire to be the responsible agency for any such regulatory program,” the FDA said.
Still, it said that the provision in the draft bill allowing companies to disclose GMO ingredients using a symbol or an internet link printed on the package would be “in tension” with FDA's statute and regulations, which require on-package disclosure.
“To avoid potential conflicts, the drafters could make clear in this bill that it will not affect FDA’s labeling requirements in the future,” the FDA said.
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Text of the FDA technical assistance is available at http://src.bna.com/gnD.
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