Pear in Mind: A Blog in the Public Interest

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had released additional science-based information about GMOs on its “Feed Your Mind” website. That website was launched in March 2020 as part of the Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative funded by Congress in 2017. Now FDA has added new fact sheets, infographics, videos, and instruction guides specifically tailored to consumers, health educators, and registered dietitians/registered dietitian nutritionists. I wrote about the initial educational resources when they were released in 2020, and am now sharing my thoughts on the newly released materials.

As you might expect, FDA provides scientifically accurate information in a way that is easy for a non-scientist to understand. FDA explains what a GMO is, what their benefits are, and how those crops and animals enter our food supply. I commend FDA on its use of the term “GMO,” which is the term most familiar for consumers, instead of “genetically engineered” or “bioengineered,” which have been favored by portions of the biotech industry and academia. The website also does an excellent job of describing what happens to GMOs after they are harvested, explaining that some crops become animal feed, some enter our food supply as highly processed ingredients without the crop’s actual DNA (e.g., soybean oil or sugar from sugar beets), and some end up in the supermarket as whole fruits and vegetables.

The new FDA information, however, falls short in several respects. First, FDA introduces consumers to the mandatory disclosure of bioengineered ingredients that is required nationwide, but does not explain the details of those requirements nor how consumers should interpret that information and its limitations. Also, Congress tasked FDA to publish and distribute information on “environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts of such biotechnology, food products, and feed.” FDA’s website does a respectable job explaining the food safety and health concerns around GMOs and how those have been addressed. However, there is little or no information on economic impacts of GMOs, such as trade interruptions (such as when GMOs are approved in the exporting country but not in the importing country) or issues of coexistence (the ability of farmers to grow crops without inadvertent contamination by GMOs). In fact, if a novice on the topic of GMOs reviewed all the information on “Feed your Mind,” they would learn little about why GMOs have been controversial for almost two decades. Perhaps that is intentional.

Finally, FDA still has not announced any campaign to make consumers aware of this GMO information. The “Feed Your Mind” webpage is not featured on the FDA website homepage and most Americans never visit the FDA website. Surprisingly, a Google search of “food safety of GMOs” or “eating GMOs” brings up the “Feed Your Mind” webpage as one of the first options, so consumers seeking GMO information will be directed to the FDA information. However, an FDA outreach campaign to consumers is needed if FDA’s GMO information is to have the impact Congress intended.

Greg manages CSPI’s Biotechnology Project, which addresses the scientific issues, government policies, and corporate practices surrounding biotechnology innovations in food and agriculture (including genetically engineered crops and animals, gene editing, and cell-cultured meats).