Let your voice be heard in 2016: Label GMO!

Published 10:00 pm Monday, January 4, 2016

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and you are continuing with your joyous celebrations through the Epiphany of Christmas, Jan. 6. These are the 12 Days of Christmas and the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, is the day I will be visited by my family king and queen, my parents!

They’ve been traveling since Dec. 8 and I welcome their safe return and good company once again. It was so cool to get a text from Dad a few days ago saying, “We are in the Panama Canal locks NOW,” and that I could jump on their live cam and zero in to the Crows Nest 9th Deck to find Mom in yellow and Dad in white. They’ve been on a cruise ship watching the dolphin, whales and fish swim by.

If you really want to do something cool this first month of a brand new year, help me and hundreds of other people in our little community zero in on the work that the FDA is asking of food consumers who enjoy fresh seafood, among other edibles in our markets, restaurants, and food supply chains.

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The tug to work on two “public comment” appeals from the Food and Drug Administration is work that requires a more full investigation than the cursory headlines that the FDA web links provide.

One opportunity here is that the FDA has extended its timeframe on deciding its language guidelines for the use of the word “Natural” on food labels. This is, thanks in part, to a very good lobbyist group, the Natural Food Product Association.

The second opportunity to comment to the FDA came to my attention from a phone call I received after my most recent column about the FDA’s recent approval of a genetically modified salmon as “safe and nutritious” for human consumption. Environmentally speaking, the FDA is also banking on the “highly unlikely circumstance” in which a single one of these Panamanian or Canadian farm-raised fast-growing, gene-altered fish could ever escape or be maliciously released into the wild risking a worldwide breed that could thereby never be traced again. Again, assuming any food industry giant pushing the questionable breed would “voluntarily” choose to label their GE fish in the first place.

The call was from a woman whose parents live in Tryon and who works in the food safety industry somewhere around Mills River, N.C. She was suggesting that I share with the public the FDA’s link to a current appeal for “public comments” because the FDA recognizes that many consumers want to know whether their food, or any ingredients in their food, is derived from genetically engineered sources. This “public comment” forum is open through late January 2016 before the FDA goes on to finalize its GMO labeling guidance. Currently the law does not require food containing ingredients derived from these salmon to be labeled as GE.

The FDA is releasing two guidance documents detailing the agency’s current thinking on labeling—a draft guidance for labeling of food derived from Atlantic salmon that has or has not been genetically engineered and a final guidance for labeling of food that has or has not been made using GE plants—to help those manufacturers who wish to voluntarily make the distinction on the labeling of their food products.

But here is the rub: Voluntary labeling is not good enough, and could be a trap. How? Worst-case scenario, once the FDA finalizes its GMO labeling guidance, industry uses the FDA guidance to preempt state laws requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs. Currently, states have the right to enact GMO labeling laws precisely because the FDA has not formally ruled on GMO labeling.
So, before, sending in our comments on either current draft guidance language on the GE Salmon or use of the word “Natural,” and before finalizing their guidance language on labeling food that has or has not been derived from GE plants, do some online scavenging for as much transparency as you can find on the possible effects of the comments we turn in.

Two of my favorite resources on these subjects are blacklistednews.com and fooddemocracynow.org. Here, we learn how important it is to stand firm on mandatory and all labeling of GMO foods, plants, animals, etc and not settle for voluntary and some. Take a stand and tell Congress to label all GMO products. Yes! We comment, and we comment in a big and loud and aware way … we know grassroots works!