USDA Announces "non-GMO" Certification Program

Statement of CSPI Biotechnology Director Greg Jaffe

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The verified “non-GMO” program announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may constitute a first step out of the morass posed by the state-by-state debates over labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients. It could provide consumers who wish to purchase foods where none of the ingredients came from an engineered crop with assurance that such a claim is accurate and approved by the government. However, USDA should ensure that any “non-GMO” claim be as neutral as possible and that food companies using that claim do not try to convince consumers that those products are somehow superior or safer than their “GMO” equivalents in any way. There is a strong international consensus that current engineered crops and food ingredients made from those crops are safe and there is no safety reason for consumers to avoid products with ingredients from biotech crops.

In fact, USDA probably shouldn’t put its official imprimatur on the term “GMO” itself, since it’s primarily a pejorative designed to make genetically manipulated crops sound scarier than they really are. After all, there aren’t really “organisms,” genetically modified or otherwise, in a can of soda made with highly refined high-fructose corn syrup made from genetically engineered corn. It might make sense to call a genetically engineered salmon, say, a “GMO.” But the term doesn’t make sense for the tens of thousands of products that have highly refined ingredients from engineered corn or soy.