USDA implements new labeling for genetically modified foods

Published 6:18 am Thursday, March 17, 2022

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Consumers will soon see new symbols and QR codes identifying genetically modified and bioengineered foods as the U.S. Department of Agriculture implements new labeling rules.

Food manufacturers, importers and certain retailers must now comply with the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which requires labeling foods that have been genetically modified. It also replaces the term Genetically modified organism, or GMO, with bioengineered foods. These are defined as foods that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified in a lab and cannot be found in nature or created through conventional breeding.

“The rule is a victory for both farmers and consumers who want transparency in food marketing,” said Ben Rowe, national affairs coordinator for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It provides clarity to the marketplace so consumers can make informed decisions on the issues that matter to them, and protects the innovation that is critical to the sustainability and future of agriculture.”

Consumers will see text, symbols, QR codes, phone numbers and website addresses on foods that are bioengineered or contain bioengineered ingredients. They can visit the website, scan the QR code or make a phone call to learn more about the food and its ingredients.

Additionally, the standard establishes a national disclosure model that avoids a complicated assortment of state laws for bioengineered foods that impede movement of products, confuse consumers and increase production costs, Rowe explained.

Bioengineered crops and foods are a vital part of today’s food system.

“Because of population growth, we need to use every tool in the toolbox to get higher yields,” said Lynwood Broaddus, president of Caroline County Farm Bureau and a member of the VFBF Soybean & Feed Grains Advisory Committee. “Genetically modified crops are very important in that.”

Broaddus explained that both producers and consumers benefit significantly from bioengineered foods, as they allow farmers to grow crops more efficiently and reduce the amount of inputs like insecticides and herbicides.

In addition, “when it comes to nutrition, there’s no difference” between bioengineered and non-bioengineered foods, Broaddus explained.

Only 13 crops and foods are available in bioengineered form, and more than 70% of harvested bioengineered crops are fed to food-producing animals.

“Billions of animals and millions of people have consumed genetically modified food without a single, recorded food safety incident,” Rowe added. “These crops are repeatedly and extensively tested for consumer and environmental safety by both industry experts and independent organizations. Those tests are reviewed by the USDA, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and similar organizations internationally.”