[Live blogging off-the-cuff, so apologies in advance for any errors in summarizing, typos, etc]
Moderated by Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Law School
Goal is to look at FDA authority over safety and labeling of Genetically Modified (GM) foods argue that FDA should do more, and argue for human right to food approach.
By GM we mean rDNA modification not husbandry and not careful selection.
FDA has moved to use guidance and policy. In particular two are relevant here. First, in food additives there is GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe. E.g., Cinnamon was treated as GRAS. Manufacturers can self-determine a product is GRAS without notifying FDA, or, if in doubt, request a GRAS notice letter from FDA. This was proposed in 1997 and final review never issued, but this is how they do it. Has increased frequency of GRAS review request from FDA. But the process is voluntary and relies entirely on info from producer not scientific separate work by FDA.
In 1992, FDA issued a policy document related to GM foods. Stated no scientific evidence that GM foods have more safety concerns than existing husbandry techniques, so GM technology is NOT material information. This was NOT a conclusion that GM foods were GRAS.
In 1996, FDA issued a guidance for GM foods. Consultation process to determine whether there are material differences between GM version and non, voluntary process, encouraged to get consumer trust. Like GRAS totally voluntary, totally reliant on FDA data. 95 reported consultations between 1996 and 2012.
Alliance for Biointegrity v. Shalala, challenged in 2000 in D.D.C., court deferred to agency on safety questions and whether the info on GM was “material” and therefore needs to be disclosed.
Where would FDA get authority to regulate GM foods? May pose allergy risks? May be relevant to nutrition or quality. Maybe an additive not GRAS. But each of these arguments apply to specific GM food not GM foods as a whole.
Their argument: Consumers have a right to know so they can make their own consumption risks, and consumer or religious views are not merely preferences but a ground for the information that is material to consumers.
On why this is best understood as Human Right to Food. Adequate right to food is an HR right framed after WWII about enough food that is not adulterated and not against your faith or ethics (kosher, halal, vegan) and respectful of environment. U.S. is not part to Socioeconomic rights convention, which is most explicit protection of this right, but are signatories to other treaties that protect the right more indirectly.
Whole Foods has moved ahead on this as have others. Even if not a worry as GRAS, consumption may be inappropriate. We need a national strategy. More of a precautionary take that understands material to matter to consumers.
Jennifer Pomeranz, Yale, A Comprehensive Strategy to Overhaul FDA Authority for Misleading Food Labels:
Obesity and diabetes is the big problem in public health. And also people showing nutritional deficiencies because too much processed food. Current labeling is misleading makes people think food is healthier than they are. This is a unique public health problem. FDA has very weak authority and power here.