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.