Biotech labeling and public hearing

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, introduced a bill requiring mandatory labeling of all food products developed from or containing ingredients derived from biotechnology.

In early November 1999, 48 members of Congress sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Jane Henney urging mandatory labeling and citing citizens’ right to know.

Kucinich’s bill exempts restaurants and other establishments that prepare food for immediate consumption. That proves the bill is not about consumer protection, says Kelly Johnston, National Food Processors Assn.’s (NFPA) vice president of government affairs and communication, because nearly half of all food consumed in the U.S. is purchased in a restaurant.

Responding to increased consumer interest in biotech foods, FDA held a series of public hearings on its regulatory policy. Lisa Katic, director of scientific and nutrition policy for Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) said the current regulatory policy mandates only essential information, allows voluntary claims about modern biotechnology and demands accuracy in all labeling. By doing these things, she said FDA’s existing labeling policy has accomplished the goal of facilitating consumer choice based on meaningful product information.

In another FDA hearing, Dr. Jeffrey Barach, vice president of special projects for NFPA, urged FDA to make its current voluntary consultation process on biotech foods “more formal and transparent” to deflect criticism and concern. On labeling, Barach supported current FDA policy but said there’s a need for well-defined criteria to ensure that any voluntary labeling statements are truthful, not misleading.

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