Foods that have been genetically tweaked and tinkered with in a lab will require new labeling in the US, with the old terms “GMO” and “GE” being tossed out in favor of the word “bioengineered”.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) new food labeling rules for genetically modified food products came into full effect on January 1, 2022. It specifically refers to food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro rDNA techniques and obtained modifications that cannot be found in nature or fostered using conventional breeding techniques. It also covers foods with genetically modified ingredients that are "detectable" by certain standards.
In 2018, the USDA launched regulations for the mandatory disclosure of foods produced using genetic engineering. Under the latest rules, products that contain genetically engineered food must disclose this on their label explicitly using the terms “bioengineered food” or “derived from bioengineering,” such as the labels below. Alternatively, the labels can feature phone numbers, website addresses, or QR codes directing consumers to more information online.
According to the USDA, the idea is to iron out the muddled “patchwork state-by-state system” that could be confusing to consumers. However, their decision has kicked up quite the controversy.
The Center For Food Safety, a non-profit advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit against the USDA claiming the new system could keep consumers in the dark about what’s really in their food. Not only do they criticize the removal of terms such as "GMO" and "GE," which are well known to consumers, but they also say the use of electronic disclosures on the packaging is "unprecedented" and discriminates against people who don't have access to a smartphone or internet. On top of this, they say the new regulations contain a major loophole: the USDA excluded "highly refined" products from the regulations unless the genetically edited material is "detectable." This, they argue, means that the rules won't apply for the majority of GMO-derived foods, namely highly processed foods with genetically edited ingredients like sodas and oils.
"These regulations are not about informing the public but rather designed to allow corporations to hide their use of genetically engineered ingredients from their customers," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement.
"Consumers have fought for decades for their right to know what's in their food and how it's produced," added Meredith Stevenson, Center for Food Safety attorney and counsel in the case. "But instead of providing meaningful labeling, USDA's final rules will only create more uncertainty for consumers, retailers, and manufacturers."
GMOs, bioengineered foods, or whatever you may call them have become somewhat of a boogeyman in certain circles with critics fearing that the “Frankenstein foods” could harbor unknown health effects or environmental threats. However, an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence proves that GMOs are safe to eat, not to mention their environmental benefits. This is a view endorsed by the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the World Health Organization.