The largest and most influential medical association in the US - the American Medical Association (AMA) - has put a sort-of stake in the ground on genetically modified foods (GMOs).
On Tuesday, the AMA called for mandatory pre-market safety testing of all GMOs, moving away from its typically soft stance on the subject. But it also resolved to not formally support mandatory labeling.
The statement reads: "Although there is no proven risk to foods coming from plants or animals whose DNA has been tweaked, the association would still like to see such foods go through a mandatory pre-market safety approval process."
The statement is a compromise among AMA members, some of whom want mandatory labeling so that people know what they're eating, while others think more research is needed on whether such foods pose risks to human health.
"Recognizing the public's interest in the safety of bioengineered foods, the new policy supports mandatory FDA pre-market systemic safety assessments of these foods as a preventive measure to ensure the health of the public," says Dr. Patrice Harris. "We also urge the FDA to remain alert to new data on the health consequences of bioengineered foods."
GMOs are completely unregulated at the moment. Monsanto and other biotech firms are "encouraged" to conduct a "volunteer" safety consultation with the Food and Drug Administration before they release a product into the market. No independent testing is required.
"Just the fact that the AMA even considered this measure is a significant win for the vast majority (91%) of Americans who believe they have the right to know about the foods they eat and feed their families - a fundamental right already enjoyed by citizens in more than 50 countries worldwide, including all of Europe, Japan, Russia and China," says the Just Label It campaign, which is pushing for national labeling of GMO foods.
"We wholeheartedly commend AMA for coming out in support of mandatory pre-market safety assessment, but are disappointed that AMA did not also support mandatory labeling," says senior scientist Michael Hansen, Consumers Union. "Studies in the scientific literature suggest genetic engineering could introduce new food allergens, increase the levels of known allergens, raise or lower nutrient levels and have adverse effects on the animals that eat such foods."
GMOs made their way onto supermarket shelves 16 years ago. Today, genetically engineered foods are ubiquitous - some 94% of soybeans, 88% of corn and 90% of cotton.
The public almost unanimously supports labeling GMOs. In March, the "Just Label It" campaign sent over a million public comments from all 50 states to the FDA. A survey released connected to the campaign found that 93% of Democrats, 90% of Independents and 89% of Republicans supported labeling.
A number of states, including Washington State, Minnesota, Connecticut, Hawaii and most recently Vermont, have introduced GMO labeling bills this year. All have been stalled in the legislative process because of threats of litigation from Monsanto.
It will be on the ballot in California in November.
Last week, Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) added an amendment to the 2012 farm bill (S. 3240) that would mandate labeling of all GMOs. Today, the Senate passed the bill and the amendment failed to pass with it.
We'll post a story Monday on the final Farm Bill voted on in the Senate.