Substantial equivalence has become established as a foundation concept in the safety evaluation of transgenic crops. In the case of a food and feed crop, no single variety is considered the standard for safety or nutrition, so the substantial equivalence of transgenic crops is investigated relative to the array of commercial crop varieties with a history of safe consumption. Although used extensively in clinical medicine to compare new generic drugs with brand-name drugs, equivalence limits are shown to be a poor model for comparing transgenic crops with an array of reference crop varieties. We suggest an alternate model, also analogous to that used in clinical medicine, where reference intervals are constructed for a healthy heterogeneous population. Specifically, we advocate the use of distribution-free tolerance intervals calculated across a large amount of publicly available compositional data such as is found in the International Life Sciences Institute Crop Composition Database.