In her letter, Feinstein writes: "The Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act (FD&C) prohibits the misbranding of food articles, which includes if a label is 'misleading.' The FD&C defines misleading to include a failure to 'reveal facts material' about a food product." She goes on to point out that in 1992, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided that whether foods were genetically modified—altered at the genetic level to withstand high doses of pesticides or to manufacture bacteria that kill insects—was not "material" information, although the agency did say that voluntarily labeling GMO ingredients was fine.
Naturally, food companies aren't eager to voluntarily label GMOs, and efforts to require them to, most recently in California and Washington state, have met with massive spending by seed, chemical, and food companies who feel they'll lose major business if consumers realize the food they're eating contains GMOs. The food industry's main lobbying organization, the Grocery Manufacturer's Association, has even made it clear that its ultimate goal is a federal ban on statewide GMO labeling efforts.
There are bills in both the Senate and the House that would require GMOs to be labeled, but neither house of Congress has bothered to move on either legislation. And the president could circumvent Congress by directing the agency to enact his own domestic policy goals, which, based on statements he made during his first presidential campaign, include mandatory nationwide GMO labeling.
"Since 1992, the number and type of genetically engineered foods has vastly changed, including the pending application of the first genetically engineered animal, AquaAdvatage Salmon," Feinstein continues. "It is also clear that consumer interest in whether their food is genetically engineered has increased dramatically, as a poll conducted by the New York Times in July found that 93% of Americans favor GE labeling. Given these facts, I believe that genetic engineering is clearly of material importance to American consumers, and thus the outdated policy position the FDA took over 21 years ago on labeling should be revised."
The president hasn't publicly responded to Feinstein's letter but the food industry is making its own waves. As part of its efforts to control GMO labeling, the Grocery Manufacturers Association sued the FDA at the end of 2013 so the agency would include GMOs in its definition of the "natural" label. Currently, there is no definition for "natural" labels on food, but numerous regulatory attempts have been made to force the agency to create one.