October 18, 2013

I appreciate Tamar Haspel’s effort to begin a reasoned debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food [“Does what you know about GMOs pass go?” Food, Oct. 16]. Her summary accurately set out the positions of those for and against GMOs, but it left out one important issue: Unless you grow or produce the food you eat, or know the person who does, it’s nearly impossible to avoid GMOs if that’s what you wish to do.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow foods to be labeled as GMO-free, as they can be in Europe. In deciding against allowing such labeling, the FDA noted that there’s no evidence that GMO-altered food substantially differs in safety or nutrition from food made without GMOs, as Ms. Haspel pointed out. Labeling foods as GMO-free implies that they’re better or safer, even if that’s not explicitly stated, so the FDA won’t permit it.

Consumers should be able to decide whether they want GMOs in their food. Not being able to easily find foods that are GMO-free only adds to the fear of the “uncertain and dreaded” that Ms. Haspel described. The FDA could devise labeling rules that set the public’s mind at ease and allow consumers more choice rather than less.

Tom Natan, Washington

The writer was research director of the National Environmental Trust from 1997 to 2008.