Alice-in-FDA-Land: More Hypocrisy on GMO Labels

This week, in explaining its position that labels will not be required on genetically engineered (GMO) salmon, FDA says that they legally cannot require such labeling. The agency claims that they are bound by labeling laws, which call for a “material” change in the salmon before labels can be required. A material change, FDA says, has to be a change that impacts taste, texture, nutritional value, or other factors.

This is a funny position for FDA, since in the past the agency has found exactly the opposite. As Consumers Union pointed out in its comments to FDA, in previous labeling decisions, FDA has required labeling when polls or surveys showed that consumers felt that certain information was important to have on labels, to insure their right to choose in the marketplace.

(*Take action now: urge your Congressperson to sign on to the “dear colleague” letters that call for Congressional hearings on approval of GMO salmon. For more on GMO salmon, see our two previous posts: GMO Salmon and the Banality of Corruption at FDA, and Truthiness and Fairness on GMO Labels at FDA.) *campaign is now closed

Today FDA says that they can’t require labels on GMO foods, since that would be misleading. But in the past, FDA again held the opposite view: previously the agency ruled that its food labels are misleading if information that consumers demand is omitted.

Even stranger, FDA says that positive labeling foods that are not GMO, as “Pure Food or Non-GMO” food, is misleading, because the label implies that the food is superior, and that’s not proven.

So I guess the agency will soon be cracking down on all of those foods labeled “nonfat,” you know, the ones with so much sugar that no credible nutritionist would ever call them “healthier” alternatives. And I suppose they’ll stop allowing companies to label all of the hundreds of products in stores labeled “no preservatives” or “no artificial flavors,” since that seems to imply that foods with these additives are inferior (which we all know they couldn’t be, since every new food additive is required to go through pre-market testing – something not required for any GMO food).

On another controversial food technology, food irradiation, FDA has found that labeling is required even if the irradiated food is “just as safe” as natural food. Why? Because surveys overwhelmingly show that consumers want to know when their food has been irradiated.

So, why is it Alice-in-FDA-Land when it comes to GMO labels? What’s the difference between irradiation labeling – or labeling about food flavors or preservatives or any of dozens of other label claims — that FDA considers in exactly the opposite way it stands on GMO food?

The difference is, those industries don’t have the clout at FDA that the biotech industry has.

Clearly the difference has nothing to do with public acceptance of GMO food. Polling consistently shows that Americans want labels on GMO foods, and if they were labeled, most would avoid buying them. A 2008 Consumers Union poll on foods from GMO animals found that 95% of Americans want labels on such foods, and more than 60% would avoid them at the store.

But what about GMO salmon? What do we know about what Americans want to know about salmon they may be eating?

Well, we checked several polls from the past few weeks, since GMO salmon has been in the news, and the verdict is clear: Americans want labels on GMO salmon, and if labeled, most would avoid eating it. See for yourself:

Washington Post

Should genetically-modified food be labeled?

Yes – 95%

If genetically engineered salmon wins FDA approval, will you buy it?

NO – 57%

Time Magazine

Do you think the FDA should approve genetically modified salmon?

No – 67%

Yes – 33%

CBC News

Would you eat genetically altered fish?

No- 65.77%

Yes – 34.23%


Would you eat seafood that has been genetically engineered?

No – 49.8%

I’ll wait and see – 22.9%

Yes – 27.4%

Puget Sound Business Journal 

Should the FDA approve genetically engineered salmon?

Yes, definitely 8.19%

Yes, but require risk disclosures 10.53%

Undecided 3.51%

No, further study is needed 26.32%

Under no circumstances 51.46%

[Notice that “No’s”  and “Under no circumstances” togther come to 77.78%]

Lake Research Partners (an independent pollster commissioned by Food and Water Watch)

78% of Americans felt FDA should not introduce GE fish and meat into the marketplace

Huffington Post

Would you eat genetically-modified salmon?

Gross! No way – 54.68%

Undecided. I’d prefer more research to be done – 24.02%

Yes. It seems safe – 21.3%

KSTP – St. Paul/Minneapolis

Should Genetically Modified Salmon Carry a Different Label?

Yes – 95%

CBS4 – S. Florida

Would you eat genetically modified salmon?

No – 84%

Yes – 16%

NW Cable Network

Would you eat genetically altered salmon?

No – 75%

Yes – 25%

Naples (FL) News

Would you eat genetically modified salmon?

No – 63%

I don’t know – 14%

Yes – 21%

Palm Beach Post 

Would you eat a genetically engineered salmon?

Yes 34.28%

No 65.72%

NBC17 – North Carolina

If the FDA approved genetically modified salmon, would you eat it?

No – 65%

Don’t know: 10%

Yes: 24% (news of lower Washington state)

Should the FDA allow the sale of genetically engineered salmon for human consumption?

No – 61%

Not sure – 16%

Yes – 23%