Labeling Bioengineered Foods Not Necessary, Says AMA

Lara C. Pullen, PhD

June 20, 2012

June 20, 2012 (Chicago, Illinois) — The American Medical Association (AMA) voted to support mandatory premarket systematic safety assessments of bioengineered foods. At the same time, the AMA stated their belief that as of June 2012, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods as a class.

The resolution was introduced by the Illinois delegation, who asked that the AMA study the impact of food containing genetically engineered ingredients. A report produced in 2000 led to the current report on the labeling of foods containing bioengineered ingredients.

The adopted report, entitled "Labeling of Bioengineered Foods," calls for continued research into the potential consequences to the environment of bioengineered crops. It also urged the government, industry, and consumer-advocacy groups to educate the public and provide unbiased information and research activities on bioengineered foods.

The report acknowledges that bioengineered foods are prevalent in grocery stores in the United States. It included a review of the potential adverse health effects of bioengineered foods, and agrees with the 1987 National Academy of Sciences white paper, which states that "there is no evidence that unique hazards exist either in the use of rDNA techniques or in the movement of genes between unrelated organisms."

There was lengthy testimony in support of and in opposition to the report and recommendations. Although committee testimony is typically limited to physician delegates, the subject of bioengineered foods drew many guests eager to testify.

Ann Dunlap, MD, a delegate from Illinois, recalled the costly Sunbeam endorsement that was made by the AMA in 1997. She explained that "we must be very sure that what we do here is not seen as an endorsement of a product."

John Fagan, PhD, from the Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy in Fairfield, Iowa, testified that there is strong scientific justification for GMO foods."

In contrast, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, DSci, from the University of California, Davis, explained that "we have been modifying crops for 10,000 years.... We need to focus on the production of a safe and efficient food supply."

During the testimony, it was acknowledged that there are concerns about the environmental effects of bioengineered foods. As Mario Motta, MD, a representative from the AMA Council on Science and Public Health, explained, "there are potential problems, but they aren't so much in the eating of the food."

In the end, the House of Delegates voted to adopt the recommendations in the report and to file the report. The comprehensive literature review included English-language articles published from 2000 to 2012.

Consistent with Dr. Newell-McGloughlin's testimony, the report explains that the genetic modification of plants has occurred for centuries. The term "bioengineered" is used to refer to transgenically produced plants. There are currently 80 transgenic crops that have undergone regulatory clearance in the United States. Approximately a dozen of these are marketed for human consumption.

The review of peer-reviewed literature revealed no reported and/or substantiated overt consequences to human health. Although acknowledging that there is strong consumer interest in the mandatory labeling of bioengineered foods, the report concludes that the US Food and Drug Administration's science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling.

Dr. Dunlap, Dr. Fagan, Dr. Newell-McGloughlin, and Dr. Motta have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Medical Association (AMA) 2012 Annual Meeting. Presented and passed on June 19, 2012.