Not Misleading Ads, Elusive Information and Confusing Terminology!
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting comments on the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard – a plan to regulate the labeling of foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Despite overwhelming public demand for labeling transparency (more than 90 percent of consumers want to know about GMOs in their food), USDA’s plan will do little to help consumers navigate the profusion of GMO foods in the marketplace.
Please take a minute to read this alert and
For a quarter of a century, MOFGA has advocated for clear, concise labeling of foods derived from GMOs. We brought our case to Maine’s legislature five times before securing unanimous legislative support for the labeling in 2013. Tragically, Congress preempted Maine’s mandatory GMO labeling law three years later and reverted back to a policy of allowing voluntary labeling for GMO food producers across the nation. Now USDA is determining how it will regulate the federal policy, and it’s important that the regulator hear from consumers who want truth in labeling.
Here are some of MOFGA’s concerns about the USDA standard:
Misleading Symbols and Terms
Do these labels give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? We think that’s what the GMO foods industry is trying to convey with these labels. MOFGA urges USDA to resist industry pressure and create a meaningful disclosure standard for GMO foods that uses neutral symbols and terms that are understandable and familiar to consumers, and to create a symbol that is consistent with federal and international standards. The term “bioengineered” and the acronym “BE” are misleading and confusing. Consumers are more familiar with the terms genetically engineered (GE) and GMO; we urge the USDA to require these more familiar terms, which have been used for more than 30 years by consumers, companies and regulators.
Barriers to Information
MOFGA strongly opposes QR codes, websites and text messaging as the principal means of disclosure. Disclosure should be provided through on-package labeling. Broad swaths of the population lack access to smartphones and/or reliable broadband or cell service connections. Providing information about GE ingredients through electronic means places an unreasonable burden on consumers. QR codes would discriminate against more than 100 million Americans – especially many in rural communities as well as low-income, minority and elderly populations – known to disproportionally lack access to these technologies.
Illogical Exceptions for Processed and Refined Products, and Newer Gene-edited Products
Highly processed or refined products that contain ingredients derived from GMOs should be labeled as such. Consumers expect all foods produced with genetic engineering to be labeled. Each GE ingredient must be identified, including highly refined genetically engineered sugars and oils and processed corn and soy ingredients. Even if they are so highly processed that the GE ingredients are undetectable in the final product, they are still GMO foods. If these products are omitted from the disclosure requirement, thousands of GMO foods may remain unlabeled, which is misleading, confusing and fails to inform consumers. Newer gene-edited products should also be labeled to provide consistency with international standards and to meet consumer expectations. Companies are currently experimenting with newer forms of genetic engineering, such as gene editing. Foods such as oranges, cacao, potatoes, soy and canola “bioengineered” with CRISPR are in development. Consumers expect that these genetically modified foods will be disclosed. USDA must ensure that any foods made with these newer forms of GE are required to be labeled.
After 25 years of advocating for labeling, MOFGA urges USDA to implement the program quickly – certainly no later January 1, 2020. There must be no delays in making the regulations effective. Manufacturers have already had years’ worth of notice and preparation to provide this information, at the state and federal level. Indeed, many major food companies have been labeling for some time. Allowing companies to postpone GMO labeling until as late as 2022 is unnecessary and an unreasonable delay.
It is no secret that MOFGA opposes the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture and advocates significant changes in the regulatory framework governing this revolutionary technology. Organic farmers cannot and will not use seeds, plants or animal feeds that have been gene-edited or genetically engineered to incorporate foreign genetic material from other species. We believe the health and environmental risks of these foods have not been assessed adequately, and the system of federal regulation is in shambles.