The USDA’s final rule on GMO labeling will allow many foods to go unlabeled. According to the new rule, published in the Federal Register in December, genetically engineered foods that contain no genetic material will be exempt from labeling, including sugar from sugar beets, corn syrup, and vegetable oils like soybean oil. The rule also exempts animal products made from animals that consume GMO feed and products made by manufacturers with annual receipts less than $2.5 million.
In addition, manufacturers will only be required to disclose GMOs if they make up five percent or more of the final product. By comparison, the European Union requires disclosure if a product contains more than 0.9 percent GMO ingredients.
The USDA has settled on the terms "BE" or "bioengineered" to identify these foods, neither of which are widely recognized among American consumers. The Agricultural Marketing Service precludes manufacturers from "using other terms such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms," which, it notes, "may create inconsistencies with the preemption provisions or muddy the scope of disclosure."
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"USDA's prohibition of the well-established terms, GE and GMO, on food labels will confuse and mislead consumers," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at the Center for Food Safety, says in a press release.
The rule also makes it difficult for consumers to gain access to relevant information by allowing some manufacturers to include an on-package QR code or phone number instead of a label. Consumers will need to scan the QR code or text the number to find out if a given food contains genetically modified ingredients.
“The final GMO disclosure rule fails to meet the clear intent of Congress to create a mandatory disclosure standard that includes all genetically engineered foods and uses terms that consumers understand,” writes the Environmental Working Group in a press release. “A fair standard should address the needs of consumers who don’t have expensive phones or who live in rural places with poor cell service but the rule put forward today simply fails to do that.”
The 2016 National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act gave the USDA two years to develop a method for disclosing genetically modified ingredients in food. The final rule was published at the end of last month, following several delays. Companies will have until 2020, or in some cases, until 2022, to comply with the new regulations.
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