In 2012 an organization called the Center for Food Safety filed a petition to the FDA. This petition called for the FDA to require labeling on foods that are genetically engineered or include ingredients from genetically engineered organisms. Just last month, the FDA responded with a thirty-page letter.
To summarize, this letter denied the petition to require labeling on foods that are genetically engineered (commonly called GE foods). The reasoning behind this is that there is not sufficient evidence to show that GE foods differ from other foods in any meaningful way. Essentially, these foods have not been proven to be unsafe. The FDA stated that what matters is the characteristics of the food itself, not the process by which it was made.
For some background, genetic engineering in plants is very similar to other genetic modification. Plant breeding is the idea of combining good genetic traits into new plant varieties. For example: only breeding apples that have a desirable taste. The idea of genetically engineering these traits into plants is comparable to the typical plant breeding that has been done for centuries. The benefit is doing it faster and adding in traits that would take a lot of time and effort to breed into the plant.
The petition brought up some concerns with GE foods. One concern is creating allergens in foods that normally wouldn’t have them. However, these foods go through a long approval process before they are allowed on grocery store shelves. If there is any allergen potential, they must be labeled as containing that allergen. Another concern is that GE foods would increase antibiotic resistance. The FDA states that there are certain antibiotic resistance genes that have been found to be safe for use in the production of GE plants. Truly, research needs to continually be done in this area to prove which genes are okay and which are not. Another big concern is the potential environmental impact of GE crops. However, the petition did not state any evidence that GE crops cause adverse environmental impacts. More research needs to be done to find out if GE crops negatively impact the environment.
GE foods are a big topic right now and people are very concerned about their safety. The FDA has made their position clear—GE foods are not a safety concern and do not need to be labeled as such. However, some companies are still moving towards labeling their products as “Non-GMO” to appeal to customers and their concerns.
In any case, we, here at StateFoodSafety, are passionate about keeping food safe. Considering how big of a topic genetically engineered foods are, it is important to know the facts. GMO Answers and National Geographic provide some resources that will help to answer your questions about GE foods.