The U.S. Food and Drug Administration published its final guidance for companies who want to voluntarily label whether foods have or have not been produced or processed with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Titled “Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have or Have Not Been Derived from Genetically Engineered Plans.” this guidance from the FDA has been 14 years in the making: The FDA released draft guidance on voluntary GMO labeling on January 18, 2001; the public comment period for that draft closed March 19, 2001.
The Organic Trade Association is perplexed that FDA finalized this guidance without reopening the process for a new round of public comment. Given that over 14 years have passed since the draft guidance was published and significant changes have occurred with respect to public perception of organic foods and GMOs in general, the public deserves to have another chance to comment on this very critical issue.
OTA objects to FDA’s decision to not endorse the term “Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)” as an acceptable term to describe the use of modern biotechnology. GMO is a commonly used term that USDA uses, consumers understand, and an industry has developed around. All communications from NOP since 2000 refer to “GMOs.” Since 1997, the organic industry has grown from $3 billion to almost $37 billion with the acceptance of “GMO” as the common use terminology. OTA has argued that any change would be extremely disruptive to years of organic product and market development. Furthermore, a change from this historical use could cause consumers to question whether the organic standards vis a vis GMO have changed. While FDA states it will not pursue action against the GMO acronym in the marketplace, surely FDA could have recognized existing federal regulation and overwhelming consumer familiarity with the term.
As a self-evident confirmation, OTA acknowledges that FDA has reaffirmed organic certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) is sufficient to substantiate a claim that a food was not produced with GMOs. The FDA specifically noted this applies to foods sold or labeled as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic.” The OTA commends the FDA for hearing organic stakeholders and the OTA on this point, and commends the FDA for recognizing that the integrity and stringency of the U.S. organic regulatory and certification system ensures consumers that organic foods are produced and handled without the use of GMOs, including adequate segregation to assure that genetically engineered foods do not become mixed with organic foods.