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Center for Food Safety to FDA: GE is Not Natural

November 4th, 2013
Center for Food Safety

CFS Asks FDA to Reject Court Request to Define “Natural”

Center for Food Safety (CFS) today wrote to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the agency to decline a District Court request to define the marketing label “natural,” arguing that complying with the Court would violate federal law.

The Northern District Court of California, in Cox v. Gruma Corp.,asked FDA to define under what circumstances food products containing ingredients produced using genetically engineered seed may be labeled “natural” or “all natural” or “100% natural.” Center for Food Safety urged FDA to reject that request because it would violate the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) which requires an agency provide a period of public comment.    

See the letter here.

“CFS writes on behalf of its over 350,000 nationwide members to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decline defining the term ‘natural’ for use on food labels in an ad hoc, haphazard manner...  Rather, it should address this issue … through the rulemaking process provided for by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA),” wrote the food safety advocacy group.

Defining the term “natural” has been controversial since FDA first attempted the process in 1991. FDA declined to define the term, issuing guidance in 1993 stating the agency would “maintain its current policy . . . not to restrict the use of the term ‘natural’ except for added color, synthetic substances, and flavors” FDA has repeatedly declined non-profit and for-profit requests in 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2010.

The Center for Food Safety letter continues that “[I]f FDA determines that defining natural is appropriate [without providing the public with notice and an opportunity to comment], it must specifically exclude GE foods as ‘natural.’  Labeling GE foods with the word ‘natural’ is exceptionally misleading to consumers.  Most consumers, if asked, would not consider GE foods as natural.”

Genetic engineering, by its definition is not a natural process. It involves inserting a foreign (often bacterial) gene into a plant. This is an artificial and novel process, which poses greater food safety risks than traditional plant breeding. The government has recognized the novel nature of these products by granting patents.

“The FDA should reject the Court’s request to define ‘natural’ for use on food labeling,” concludes Center for Food Safety. “Genetic engineering makes silent but fundamental changes to our food at the molecular and cellular level, the full human health and environmental consequences of which are still being discovered.  These changes fundamentally affect consumers, food manufacturers, and the public at large.  Because of this and the growing consumer concern over GE foods, FDA should refrain from defining ‘natural’ in an ad hoc and haphazard manner without first providing to the public notice of the proposed rulemaking and an opportunity to comment on these important issues.  In the alternative, if FDA considers it appropriate to define natural without issuing a rule, then it should specifically prohibit labeling GE foods as ‘natural.’”

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