The U.S. Department of Agriculture has succumbed to increased pressure from consumer groups to introduce food labeling systems that would identify products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and has now created a label for GMO-free food. While companies could already pay private organizations like the Non-GMO Project to label foods as free of GM ingredients, nothing that was government certified has existed until now.
Whether or not GMO labeling systems should be rolled out has attracted ongoing frenzied debates across the globe that are certainly not settled. Transparency is generally a good thing in science, and people argue that labeling would increase consumer choice. People also proclaim it is their right to know what they are consuming so that they can make an informed decision. But opponents point out that it would also trigger unnecessary fear, drive increases in the prices of non-GMO food and imply to people that GMOs are unsafe or harmful, when in fact there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest their safety. Furthermore, GMOs are subjected to more rigorous testing than conventional foods.
Although this new label is a step in the right direction for advocates, the good news for those opposed to the idea is that it is not mandatory. Instead, companies can apply for the label and, if approved following confirmation, pay a sum for the “USDA Process Verified” stamp, Associated Press reports. Usually, this would mean that less than 1% of ingredients are genetically engineered.
But the newly developed system has yet to be introduced, or even officially announced, in the United States. Reports are actually based on a letter from the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, outlining plans for the label, which the Associated Press got a copy of. According to this source, the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service came up with the system, a sector that deals with verifying other food claims like “antibiotic free.”
Although the USDA has refused to comment, a spokesperson has confirmed that the letter was indeed from Vilsack. But it shouldn’t be too long before we find out for ourselves as, according to Vilsack’s writing, the announcement will be made soon, and companies are already chomping at the bit to get their hands on some labels.