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Compulsory Labeling of Plants and Plant Products Derived from Biotechnology

The American Phytopathological Society’s (APS) governing Council approved on October 16, 2013 the following statement expressing its position on biotechnology and compulsory labeling of plants and plants derived from biotechnology. The APS Public Policy Board recommended an initial draft of this statement to Council which was presented, reviewed, and approved.

The American Phytopathological Society (APS) represents approximately 5,000 scientists who investigate plant pathogens, their associated diseases and management, and plant beneficial microorganisms. APS supports biotechnology as a means for improving plant health, food and feed safety, and sustainable gains in plant productivity.

Biotechnology is a valuable tool to introduce functional traits into plants. In some crop plants, biotechnology approaches have become a de facto standard for improvement, and planting of these crops has largely replaced conventional cultivars. Use of these crops has resulted in multiple benefits, including yield increases, reduced inputs, and significant gains in soil conservation. Of particular interest to APS is the application of biotechnology to manage plant disease, such as Plant Incorporated Protectants (overseen by the EPA).  Biotechnology for improved management of plant diseases has the potential to reduce dependency of commercial and non-commercial growers on pesticides, and to enhance food security for an increasing global population.  APS has long opposed regulating food, feed, and fiber products based solely on the particular technology that was used to create the varieties/cultivars.  Thus, APS advocates regulating on the basis of the products derived and not the breeding process.  Gene transfer to achieve disease resistance, as well as nutrition, color, and taste, have a long history in plant hybridization and cytogenetics.  These techniques are considered conventional in breeding, even though they constitute gene mobilization from both species and genera to recipient plants.

Currently there are several efforts to require labeling for products derived from plants produced using molecular genetic manipulation. These plants are referred to as genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) organisms.  It is imperative that any plant product entering our food supply is safe and does not negatively impact the environment. To date, no documented and reproducible studies have shown harm to human or animal health associated with GM crops.  Current scientific evidence supports the conclusion that approved GM plants pose no greater safety risk than traditionally developed plants.  Thus, labeling foods as GM would be considered arbitrary and capricious, and would be confusing to consumers. Further, such labeling could reduce the availability and use of biotechnology for the management of plant diseases.

Since their widespread introduction 20 years ago, GM crops have significantly enhanced food and fiber production.  Mandatory labeling of food derived from GM plants would focus on regulation of a plant improvement process rather than on public and environmental safety and would be contrary to the data-based decision process of U.S. law.  APS supports transparent science-based regulations that foster innovation, are environmentally sound, ensure food safety, and reinforce consumer confidence. Compulsory labeling of GM food could undermine this confidence and reduce the availability of valuable tools for managing crop losses caused by plant disease.

Position Statement Contacts: APS Public Policy Chair Jan Leach ( and APS President George Abawi (