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Bioengineering and the TTB

People, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, are often concerned about genetically modified organisms or bioengineering in their food. Given the fervor, does it make sense for suppliers to assume the concern extends to alcoholic beverages and label accordingly? While some manufacturers may want to highlight that their products are “GMO free” or “GM free,” the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) current policy prohibits such labeling. Producers of non-alcoholic beverages have a little more latitude regarding GM labeling: The FDA’s position is that special labeling of bioengineered or genetically modified foods is not required, but manufacturers may voluntarily label their foods with such information. Additional information on the FDA’s position is available here. The TTB tends to be very cautious in allowing new types of information on alcohol labels and often prohibits any reference whatsoever until they have had the opportunity for careful review and can provide guidance in the proper manner of presenting such information. This has been true in the context of organic labeling and with respect to nutritional information (e.g., calories, fat, carbs, etc.). So we can expect that the TTB will weigh in with some direction on how GM-related statements can be offered in the future, but for now, they cannot be used on alcoholic beverage labels. Be sure to keep the TTB’s position in mind before submitting a certificate of label approval with any “GMO” related terms or references.

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