As the fight over labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients continues, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says the issue is so pressing that President Obama should skip the Congressional process and direct the FDA to require labels on food containing GM ingredients.
Feinstein, who is a supporter of proposed labeling legislation in the Senate, says imposing a federal labeling system could be achieved through a simple directive from the president to his Food and Drug Administration.
"Your administration should re-evaluate the Food and Drug Administration's outdated policy that genetically engineered food does not need to disclose this fact on required labels," Feinstein wrote in a letter submitted to the President last week.
"It is my view that the FDA does have the authority to require labeling for genetically engineered food products," she added, explaining that the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act (FD&C) prohibits the misbranding of food articles, which includes if a label is 'misleading.'"
FDA says any label that fails to "reveal facts material" about a food product is misleading, Feinstein pointed out.
Feinstein says even though FDA policy doesn't consider a product's inclusion of GMOs a material fact, she argues that GE foods have "vastly changed," citing the first GE animal, AquaAdvantage Salmon.
"It is also clear that consumer interest in whether their food is genetically engineered has increased dramatically," she said, citing a New York Times poll.
The discussion has gotten intense in some states. Supporters of labeling largely argue that they have the right to know what is used in the production of their food, while opponents say the costs to producers, manufacturers and retailers are too great. In addition, they say, there is little evidence to suggest that GMOs are unsafe to consume.
Yet, it has been the focus of several initiatives in recent years, some that have been more successful than others. In California, for example, a 2012 ballot initiative to label GM foods was narrowly defeated.
More than $44 million was spent to defeat the initiative – Proposition 37 – while $7 million was raised in support, according to MapLight data.
A similar measure was also defeated this year in Washington, with 48.91% of voters entering a yes vote and 51.09% voting no.
However, some states have approved GM labeling measures, though they are subject to several caveats. For example, in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a law mandating GMO labeling even though four other states – one of which must share a border with Connecticut – have to approve a similar law before it can go into effect.
An additional trigger to the bill's enforcement stipulates that the population of Northeastern states that pass GMO labeling legislation must be at least 20 million people.
Read more about GM labeling:
GMO Labeling Question Still Alive
Seed Trade Association, Ag Retailers Concerned About GMO Labeling Bill
Consumer Group Bumps Up Presence After GMO Labeling Defeat
Prop. 37 Blazes Way for GMO Labeling
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the final vote percentages for Washington initiative 522.