Today the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece criticizing General Mills’ decision to label Cheerios as “non-GMO.” The authors, Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, cite a 2001 FDA guidance document which includes a definition of GMO. According to the FDA:
genetic modification means the alteration of the genotype of a plant using any technique, new or traditional. . .consumers do not have a good understanding that essentially all food crops have been genetically modified.
The FDA makes a good point. The definition of GMO is so broad it includes virtually all plant based foods. Under this wording any selective breeding of plants is considered “GMO.” If most consumers knew how vague or broad the definition is, there would likely be a public outcry to craft a more meaningful classification. As it stands, the FDA’s consideration of what is and is not a GMO reflects the agency is out of touch with consumers.
At the same time, the World Health Organization has its own definition of genetically modified food :
Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a genes from a different organism.
Assuming that this definition is also overly broad, public statements from the WHO are very specific. In other words, traditional foods are generally considered safe. Traditional food is any food which has been eaten often for thousands of years. For this reason examination of new plants developed through traditional breeding techniques may be subject to a reduced scrutiny than new plants not occurring naturally.