The government spending bill expected to be passed by Congress on Friday would prohibit any sale of the recently approved genetically engineered salmon until the Food and Drug Administration has finalized its guidelines on labeling. The guidelines, which are currently in draft form, concern voluntary labeling of any product containing the GE salmon, but some news reports have suggested the bill would require mandatory labeling to be in place before the fish could be sold. GENeS reached out to biotechnology law experts to find out exactly what the bill would mean for labeling of GE salmon.
Dr. Robert Streiffer, Associate Professor, Bioethics and Philosophy, University of Wisconsin – Madison (webpage):
Expertise: ethical and political issues related to agricultural biotechnology. Dr. Streiffer has coauthored several papers on labeling.
“The spending bill currently winding its way through the United States Congress has language relevant to the contentious issue of labeling for genetically engineered foods, and in particular the labeling of AquAdvantage salmon, recently approved for sale by the Food and Drug Administration. Some have interpreted this language as directing the FDA to not allow the sale of GE salmon unless it is labeled explicitly as being genetically engineered. But the language of section 761, parts (a) and (b), of the bill appears to be flexible enough that the FDA could satisfy these provisions without a mandatory labeling requirement.
“Part (a) requires that the FDA publishes final labeling guidelines for informing consumers of foods containing GE salmon, but those guidelines need not necessarily require all foods containing GE salmon to be labeled as such. Part (b) requires that money be spent to develop the guidelines and to also “implement a program to disclose to consumers whether salmon offered for sale to consumers is genetically engineered variety.” But there are ways this disclosure could take place without including information on the food’s label. For example, the FDA could establish a public website that would identify the kinds of genetically engineered salmon currently on sale.
“The FDA has consistently maintained that its hands are tied regarding labeling of GE foods because it can require additional labeling only if that information is relevant to the consequences of the food’s consumption, is relevant to the food’s suitability for customary or expected uses, or is relevant in light of positive representations made on the label. But the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act explicitly says that these three kinds of information should be considered “among other things.” The Act is also quite explicit that the FDA can require companies to include information on a label when doing so is necessary to avoid misleading consumers through a lack of information, clearly exhibiting a concern for consumer autonomy that applies in the case of genetically engineered salmon.”
Drew Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma (webpage):
Expertise: agricultural biotechnology law and policy.
“Section 761 of the Omnibus Spending bill is unclear as to the impact that it would have on labeling of the AquaBounty Atlantic Salmon. Section 761 places the issue within the authority of the FDA to draft guidelines for informing consumers. The section’s language, however, does not require any particular outcome about the label (mandatory or voluntary), the label’s content, or the manner for informing consumers. From my reading of Section 761, all these questions are simply placed into the authority of the FDA. Until the FDA exercises that authority, Section 761 will remain unclear.”
Declared interests (see GENeS register of interests policy):
No interests declared
http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20151214/CPRT-114-HPRT-RU00-SAHR2029-AMNT1final.pdf (Section 761, parts (a) and (b))