A federal judge put the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the spot recently, asking the agency to decide whether genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be present in food products labeled “natural.” The request from U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers put on hold a class action suit against Gruma Corp., which markets tortillas and other products under the Mission brand name.

The company was being sued in San Francisco court by lead plaintiff Elizabeth Cox, for claiming that its products are “all natural” despite containing corn from GMO seeds. “Under these circumstances, deference to the FDA’s regulatory authority is the appropriate course,” the judge wrote in her opinion.

The opinion went on to say, “Plaintiff wrongly concludes that there is no agency charged with determining whether food labels may properly state that GMO products can be labeled ‘all natural.’” The FDA is that agency, per the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act, the judge argued. The judge agreed with the plaintiff that a “gaping hole” exists in the regulations when it comes to GMOs and “natural” claims.

The plaintiff is seeking damages under California’s unfair competition law, false advertising law and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. The suit is on hold for six months, pending FDA’s response to the judge’s request.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2013