Search SciPol

Brought to you by
What it does 

The FDA closely monitors the labeling of many categories of foods. Currently, no legislation exists to regulate and synchronize labeling of food produced using genetic engineering. Many people argue that consumers have the right to know when their food has been genetically modified for health, environmental and economic reasons. This legislation aims to provide consumers with that knowledge by establishing a consistent and enforceable standard for labeling genetically engineered foods. Additionally, the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act” prohibits any foodstuffs produced using genetic engineering techniques to carry the label “natural.” Specifically, H.R. 913:

  • Amends Section 403 (21 USC 343) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (§343: Misbranded Food) to add a section stating that food shall be considered misbranded if it: 
    1. Has been genetically engineered or contains one or more genetically engineered ingredients, or
    2. Meets the above description (“1.”) and is labelled or advertised as “natural.” 
  • Excludes certain foods from these standards, including food served in restaurants, or a product that is a medical food, was produced using a genetically engineered vaccine, drug, processing aid (e.g., yeast) or enzyme, or packaged foods containing genetically engineered foods that account for less than 1 percent of the total weight of the foodstuff. 
  • Restricts a person from bearing penalties associated with misbranding so long as the individual: 
    1. Obtains a guaranty from the U.S.-based food provider, which contains a statement indicating that the food is not genetically engineered or does not contain a genetically engineered ingredient, or
    2. Is an agricultural producer and the food was unintentionally contaminated (this exclusion does not apply if contamination occurs as a result of negligence).
  • Requires that within one year of enactment, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will create food labelling regulations in accordance with the amended Section 403 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act.
Relevant Science 

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are developed using complex lab-based measures that specifically alter genetic material in order to introduce non-natural, desirable traits or delete less desirable ones. The genome of an organism can be edited to either:

  • Insert a gene from another organism; or
  • Delete a piece of DNA from the original organism’s genome.

The introduction of foreign genetic material can provide many advantages, such as increased yields, increased resistance to pests and disease (and reduced need for pesticides), enhanced crop nutrient content, and enhanced crop viability in harsher soil and weather conditions. GMOs do not refer to living organisms that have been modified through selective breeding, a technique that has historically been used in agriculture to select for plants with high yields or sweet fruits.

Background 

FDA regulation prohibits mandatory labeling about a food’s production method if there is no “material difference” in the product due solely to the production process. The FDA has not found that, as a class, GMO foods differ materially in nutritional value, organoleptic properties (those components that stimulate the sensory organs, such as texture or aroma), or functional characteristics. Therefore, the FDA does not consider a food made by genetic engineering to be materially different, requiring mandatory labeling.

Endorsements & Opposition 

At present, there have not been publicly stated reported endorsements or opposition specifically to this bill. 

The broad debate surrounding genetically engineered organisms and labeling requirements, however, continues to be highly contested.

  • Some argue that GMOs are safe for consumption and can offer public health, agricultural, and economic benefits. Studies to-date have found no evidence of negative effects on human health associated with the consumption of GM foods. The US National Academy of Sciences, the UK’s Royal Society of Medicine, the European Union, and the WHO studied and declared GM crops are safe for human consumption.
  • Others advance several concerns surrounding GM foods. If released into the wild, GMOs may outcompete and eliminate their wild plant and animal counterparts. Additionally, some worry that inserting foreign DNA into an organism (as accomplished using the rDNA technique) could potentially increase the risks to humans consuming GMOs, like increased allergic reactions or transferred antibiotic resistance; however, a recent review of GMO foods by the National Academy of Sciences found no evidence of such increased risks associated with GMO foods over their non GMO counterparts.
  • Regarding labels, those against the requirement to clearly label GMOs claim that the public unnecessarily fears such foods due to a lack of knowledge and understanding. Anti-labelers further argue that mandatory GMO labeling imposes an additional undue burden since GMO foods are less likely to be bought than their non-GMO counterparts.
  • Proponents of GM food labels argue the public has a right to know which foods are genetically modified, so that consumers may make informed decisions about the consumption of GM foods.
Status 

This bill was introduced on February 12th, 2015 and subsequently referred to the Health Subcommittee within the House Energy and Commerce Committee on February 13th, 2015. 

Primary Author 
Bryan McMahon
Editor(s) 
Elizabeth Cirulli, PhD, Allison Roder, PhD Candidate & Aubrey Incorvaia, MPP
Recommended Citation 

Duke SciPol, “Genetically Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act (HR 913, 114th Congress)” available at http://scipol.duke.edu/Genetically-Engineered-Food-Right-To-Know-Act (06/13/2016).