Food safety

USDA criticized over new, uniform ‘bioengineered’ label for foods

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) changes its labeling rules for genetically modified foods in the new year, critics say the new move adds work for consumers and creates large loopholes for suppliers.  

Starting on Saturday, foods containing “genetically engineered” (GE) ingredients or “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs) will now simply be marked as “bioengineered,” according to The Washington Post.  

A phone number or QR code on the packaging may also direct consumers to more information, a decision some argue discriminates against people without access to a cell phone or smartphone, the Post added. 

The USDA has said the change “avoids a patchwork of state labeling regulations” to provide a national standard for the labels that were once set on a state-by-state basis. But critics say the term could create confusion among consumers.

“The worst part of this law is the use of the term ‘bioengineered’ because that’s not a term most consumers are familiar with,” Gregory Jaffe, director of Center for Science in the Public Interest’s biotechnology project, told the Post.

The Center for Food Safety has also criticized the rules, saying it will leave the majority of genetically modified foods unlabeled, the Post added.

Specifically, the USDA sets an exemption threshold at 5 percent of “unintended” genetically engineered ingredients. In the European Union, the standard is markedly lower at 0.9 percent. 

“Consumers are left not knowing if it’s not present or if a food company just chose not to disclose,” Peter Lurie, president of Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Post.

The Hill has reached out to USDA for comment. 

Tags Genetic engineering GMO u.s. department of agriculture

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