Consumers wanting to avoid genetically engineered salmon, if it eventually reaches grocery stores, might have a hard time being sure. That is because the Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday that the salmon would not have to be labeled as genetically engineered.
Agency officials explained on Thursday that the law required labeling of “material” aspects of food, and that use of genetic engineering per se is not material. A significant change in the nutritional content of a food would be an example of a material change, and that altered nutritional profile would have to be on the label, but not the fact that it was produced by genetic engineering. (In the case of the salmon, the agency said there were no material differences between the genetically engineered salmon and a conventional counterpart.)
Still, the F.D.A. on Thursday issued draft guidance for voluntarily labeling salmon and final guidance for voluntarily labeling foods made from bioengineered crops.
Few or no companies want to voluntarily label their products as being genetically engineered since that might hurt sales, and many have lobbied heavily against mandatory labeling. But as consumer pressure for transparency about ingredients grows, an increasing number of companies are labeling their nonengineered products.
The labeling issue is heading for a showdown.
A Vermont law requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods will take effect in July unless food industry groups succeed in getting it blocked by a court. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would pre-empt states from requiring such labeling.