The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Coming to the Cross-Roads with GMO-Free Labeling?

Coming to the Cross-Roads with GMO-Free Labeling?

The Food Journal

February 19, 2013


How Absence Claims are being applied:

The FDA first required labeling of food produced using biotechnology in 1992. To date, the products produced using GMO's don't have characteristics requiring labeling under the FDA policy guidance.

But the Government can and will regulate voluntary labels. To the extent that a label makes a "non" claim, then the FTC and FDA, as well as state governments, can get involved to discern if the absence label on any product makes the presence of a legal ingredient bad. The FDA's guidance about labeling dairy products produced without the product r-bST exemplified the Agency's enforceable intent - - absence claims must be truthful, verifiable and not misleading. (2/1994). 

Voluntary versus Mandatory:

Relative to what lies beyond Prop 37, the core issue is whether a robust voluntary labeling scheme will satisfy those calling for mandatory labeling to ensure informed choices. Those that want to limit or prevent the use of the technology aren’t likely to be satisfied with anything less than a label that doesn’t strengthen their ability to pressure retailers and brands to segment the market. At the international level, the Codex Alimentarius (WHO/FAO) (click here to download University of Idaho report) debated voluntary vs. mandatory labeling for over two decades). In 2011, this culminated in a compilation intended to develop labeling guidance to enhance consumer protection.

While its final guidance provided advice to both sides of the labeling debate, mandatory and voluntary, a Biotechnology Industry Organization spokesperson was quoted as interpreting the agreement as "no new guidelines needed because the guidelines for other foods apply to biotech foods as well." (The Hagstrom Report, July 5, 2011, "Biotech labeling interpretations differ."

What Does GMO-Free Mean to the Consumer?

Several manufacturers and specialty retailers pursue a voluntary non-GMO seal called the Non-GMO Project. Since total absence cannot be guaranteed, the project stresses best practices, analysis when prudent and appropriate, and applies thresholds. Organic foods will continue to offer a non-GMO option since GMO's are prohibited by the organic standard. Proponents for labeling claim that there should be options for those that want to avoid GMO's but don't necessarily want an organic product.

The question is whether GMO-Free will be understood by the consumer.