On November 19, 2015, FDA issued final guidance for industry on voluntarily indicating whether food products are derived from genetically engineered plants. Under the guidance, food manufacturers may voluntarily label their foods with information about whether the foods were produced using bioengineering as long as such information is truthful and not misleading. However, FDA suggests that food manufacturers use terms such as “not bioengineered,” “not genetically engineered,” and “not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology” rather than “not genetically modified,” “non-GMO,” or “GMO free.”
FDA uses the terms “genetic engineering” and “bioengineering” to describe the use of modern biotechnology to develop new plant varieties. In technical terms, modern biotechnology means the application of in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombinant barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection of plants. FDA prefers the terms “genetic engineering” and “bioengineering” over the broader term, “genetic modification,” based on the potential for the term, without additional qualifiers, to encompass virtually any kind of alteration to the genetic composition of a plant, rather than simply the modifications resulting from modern biotechnology techniques. More analysis is available on our Food & Drug Law Access Blog. Also on November 19, FDA issued draft guidance on labeling genetically engineered salmon.