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NewsBites March 2014 Issue

“Natural” Labeling for GMOs Puts FDA in Middle

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finds itself in the middle of the tussle over whether foods labeled as “natural” can contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is petitioning the agency to specifically authorize “natural” labeling on GMO products, such as those containing bioengineered corn, soy, canola or sugar. The trade association cited the proliferation of lawsuits challenging “natural” labeling, with 65 pending class-action cases across the country. At the same time, three federal judges presiding over such cases have asked the FDA to rule on whether GMO ingredients belong in “natural” foods.

Current FDA regulations state only that “natural” products cannot contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances, and that the labeling term must not be used in a “misleading” way. The Grocery Manufacturers Association argued, “There is no material difference between foods derived from biotechnology and their traditional counterparts…. There is nothing synthetic or artificial about foods derived from biotechnology as that term has been applied by the agency.”

The FDA has not responded to the petition, but told the judges it would “respectfully decline” their request for administrative guidance. (For more on the pros and cons of GMOs, see our November Special Report.)

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