On September 24, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) petitioned FDA to prohibit the use of the term “Non-GMO” on consumer foods and goods because according to ITIF the claim is misleading.
Although the Petition focuses on the Non-GMO Project Verified “butterfly” logo, it asks FDA to prohibit any non-GMO claim. Some of Petitioner’s arguments against use of the non-GMO claim are:
- The definition of GMO used by the Non-GMO Project is not “scientifically defensible.” Petitioners claim that the “arbitrarily stipulated definition presupposes humans and human activity are necessarily distinct and separate from anything that may be considered ‘natural.’”
- The implied claim that GMO (as defined by Non-GMO Project) is less safe compared to non-GMO is not supported by science; citing the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Petitioners claim that “[s]afety is entirely dependent on the specific characteristics involved, and those are independent of how they came to be.”
- The term GMO has “no universally accepted and understood meaning, and, . . . they provide no information relevant to health, safety, or nutrition that would be useful to a consumer contemplating food purchase choices. They are inescapably confusing and intrinsically misleading.”
- The claim is used on foods for which no “GMO” counterpart exists; even on foods, such as salt, that could never be genetically modified.
Petitioner contends that the allegedly misleading and inaccurate statements cause products with non-GMO claims to be misbranded. Petitioner asks that “FDA put an end to [the] fraudulent scheme and protect consumers from misleading and deceptive food labels as the law requires.”
The Petition as submitted would appear to have little chance of achieving its stated objective. Petitioner does not provide research to show that consumers purchase non-GMO foods because they are concerned that GMO foods are unsafe or that consumers are misled by the non-GMO claim. Petitioner also does not acknowledge FDA’s 2015 guidance regarding voluntary claims about foods that are or are not derived from genetically engineered plants. Furthermore, a proposal to ban non-GMO claims would encounter stiff opposition, given the wide use of those claims.