Sunday, February 24, 2013

Genetically modified foods: Who has to tell? -

Genetically modified foods: Who has to tell? -

By Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times

February 23, 2013

Consumers who believe they have a right to know whether their food contains genetically modified ingredients are pressing lawmakers, regulators and voters to require labels on altered foods. But even if they succeed, experts say there's no guarantee that labels identifying genetically engineered foods would ever appear on packages.

"People are usually surprised to learn that there is no legal right to know," said Michael Rodemeyer, an expert on biotechnology policy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

A variety of rules and regulations control the words that appear on food packages. Such rules must be balanced against companies' constitutionally protected right of commercial speech, experts said.

"It's an unsettled area in the law," said Hank Greely, director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences in Palo Alto. "If I were a betting man, I think the odds are good that the Supreme Court would ... strike down a GMO labeling requirement."

Consumers do have the right to know some things about foods, and it's the job of the Food and Drug Administration to enforce the various rules. Labels must carry an accurate name for the food, as well as its weight and manufacturer, a list of ingredients and, since 1990, that panel of calories and breakdown of basic nutrients that some people pore over and others blithely ignore.

And labels cannot be false or misleading. Consumers have a right to know that a product contains the nutrients they'd reasonably expect to find in a food with that name: An orange lacking vitamin C (should anyone desire to create such a thing) would have to be labeled as such.

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