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FDA Dissuades Using ‘GMO’ Acronym on Labels

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In response to consumer pressure to disclosure whether food ingredients are derived from genetically engineered (GE) plants, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued final guidance for manufacturers who wish to voluntarily label their foods as containing or not containing such ingredients saying they should use more precise terms such as "bioengineered" rather than using the "GMO" acronym in descriptions.

While genetic engineering is sometimes referred to as "genetic modification" producing "genetically modified organisms (GMOs)," the FDA said it considers "genetic engineering" to be the more precise term. (Read more about the GMO labeling debate and the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015.)

According to the FDA, food manufacturers may voluntarily label their foods with information about whether the foods were not produced using bioengineering, as long as such information is truthful and not misleading. In general, an accurate statement about whether a food was not produced using bioengineering is one that provides information in a context that clearly refers to bioengineering technology. It said examples of such statements include:

• "Not bioengineered."

• "Not genetically engineered."

• "Not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology."

• "We do not use ingredients that were produced using modern biotechnology."

• "This oil is made from soybeans that were not genetically engineered."

• "Our corn growers do not plant bioengineered seeds."

Other terms are sometimes used by manufacturers in food labeling regarding whether a food was not derived from genetically engineered plants, including "not genetically modified" and claims using the acronym "GMO" (genetically modified organism), the FDA said. For the reasons discussed in the remaining paragraphs of this section, FDA recommended terms such as "not bioengineered," "not genetically engineered," and "not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology."

However, FDA said it "does not intend to take enforcement action against a label using the acronym 'GMO' in a statement indicating that the product (or an ingredient) was not produced through the use of modern biotechnology, as long as the food is, in fact, not derived from a genetically engineered plant and the food’s labeling is not otherwise false or misleading, as further discussed in this guidance."

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