Consumers have help in identifying non-bioengineered foods

October 25, 2013

In his Oct. 19 letter on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Tom Natan stated that “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow foods to be labeled as GMO-free.” This is technically true but misleading.

A 2001 FDA guidance document advises against using “GMO-free” per se because “terms like ‘not genetically modified’ and ‘GMO free,’ that include the word ‘modified’ are not technically accurate unless they are clearly in a context that refers to bioengineering technology. ‘Genetic modification’ means the alteration of the genotype of a plant using any technique, new or traditional.”

The FDA does permit voluntary labeling of non-bioengineered foods, so long as the labels use accurate terminology and are not misleading. The guidance document offers a few specific examples, including, “This oil is made from soybeans that were not genetically engineered.” Furthermore, a 2010 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed that producers have a First Amendment right to label non-bioengineered foods.

A visit to most supermarkets would reveal thousands of voluntarily labeled non-bioengineered foods on store shelves. So consumers wishing to avoid genetically engineered foods and ingredients already have adequate information to make the choices they say they want.

Gregory Conko, Washington

The writer is executive director and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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