In the lawsuit Elizabeth Cox v. Gruma Corporation over the “all-natural” claim on the label of Mission tortilla chips, District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers recommends that the FDA should decide if GMO products can be labeled as such. The plaintiff contends that there is a “gaping hold in the current regulatory landscape for ‘natural’ claims and GMOs.” The court stayed the action for six months to give the government time to decide whether genetically engineered foods can be labeled “natural”. Otherwise, the Judge wrote in her decision, “the Court would risk usurping the FDA’s interpretive authority.”
Mission tortilla chips contain GMO corn. The lawsuit states that “because Defendant’s Products contain genetically modified organisms in the form of corn grown from bioengineered, genetically modified seeds, Defendant’s labels indicating the Products are “All Natural” are false and misleading.”
The Judge issued a “tentative ruling” in favor of Gruma, since the FDA “has not addressed, even informally, the question of whether foods containing GMO or bioengineered ingredients may be labeled ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’, or whether GMO or bioengineered ingredients would be considered ‘artificial’ or ‘synthetic’.”
In 2001, the FDA released nonbinding draft industry guidance stating that there is no information to conclude that genetic modification is not a “material fact” that must be disclosed on food labels. It affirmed its decision back then not to require special labeling of bioengineered foods. Experts do not expect the FDA to change its stance on this issue any time soon.
This issue has been fought in the courts and in the ballot box. There is a movement in the United States to require labeling of GMO foods; states are putting labeling initiatives on ballots and legislatures are crafting bills on this matter. Connecticut and Maine passed bills this month requiring food manufacturers to list GMO ingredients on product packaging. The governors in both states intend to sign these bills into law.
If you want to avoid GMO products, several web sites can help. COVVHA has a listing of non-GMO verified products by category, and Safe Food.org lists ingredients that are commonly modified. There are several other lawsuits filed against corporations using GMO foods, and last week, the Center for Food Safety filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for recently discovered illegal GMO wheat growing wild in Oregon, which has depressed wheat prices.