Former Director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology Pens Op-Ed Criticizing FDA Enforcement on Organic Labeling, FDA Commissioner Pledges to Look at Labeling Claims in Organics
- In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Dr. Henry Miller, the former founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, criticizes FDA as giving organic food labeling and advertisement “a complete pass.” The author calls out FDA’s lack of enforcement on claims that organic foods are grown “without toxic or persistent pesticides,” noting that in fact, organic farmers rely on synthetic and natural pesticides to grow their crops (just as conventional farmers do), and organic products can contain numerous synthetic as well as natural chemicals. The op-ed also highlights the author’s inability to find a single FDA warning letter or other enforcement action against “non-GMO” claims, where the products have no GMO counterpart or couldn’t possibly contain GMOs. Ultimately, the author concludes that “consumers need aggressive FDA action to curb these abuses and level the playing field.”
- Two days after the op-ed was published, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeteda pledge to look into the terms used in food packaging, “in coming weeks, I’m going to put out more detailed information on what different terms mean on food packaging, to help consumers best use claims like organic, antibiotic free, etc.” The Commissioner also highlighted the distinct roles FDA and USDA have when it comes to oversight of organic foods. While USDA is charged with regulating use of the term “organic” on food labels through its oversight of the National Organic Program, FDA “oversees general food labeling compliance and safety issues.” Stay tuned for more from FDA on this.
- As for non-GMO claims, this blog has been closely following USDA’s proposed rule for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which proposes to allow food certified under the National Organic Program to make claims regarding the absence of bioengineering in food. How the final rule squares with FDA’s current labeling guidance on foods derived from genetically engineered plants (which states, in part, that a statement claiming absence of genetically engineered ingredients may be false or misleading where there is no GMO counterpart to some of the ingredients) remains to be seen.
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