GMO Labeling Standards

Time to revisit a topic that I have not touched on for some years now. GMO labeling standards, the final say. As per the USDA.

As one could guess going into this, the usual suspects are unhappy with the results.

USDA Releases Final GMO Labeling Standard

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday announced its long-awaited rule on the labeling of foods containing genetically engineered, or GMO, ingredients. Just don’t expect the letters GMO to appear on these products.

Under the new “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard,” such items will feature the term “bioengineered” or BE foods.

From Jan. 1, 2022, food companies will have four options to make this disclosure, according to the USDA’s fact sheet:

  • On-package text, e.g. “Bioengineered Food,” or “Contains a Bioengineered Food Ingredient.”
  • Electronic or digital disclosure—must include instructions to “Scan here for more food information” or similar language, and include a phone number
  • Text message disclosure
  • Or a USDA-approved symbol:

They are not happy with this result. However, let’s see if they have a point.

After years of a contentious battle that pitted food and chemical giants against state-level GMO mandates, President Obama signed a law in July 2016 that directed the Secretary of Agriculture to come up with a national labeling standard for products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

Critics of the new labeling standard say it allows food companies to use QR codes, a website URL or 1-800 numbers for this disclosure rather than a clear, national labeling standard.

“This rule is filled with loopholes that will allow manufacturers to use digital codes and other technology that make GMO disclosure more difficult for consumers than simple on-package labels. Many people don’t have access to smartphones needed to scan QR codes, or access to a good signal while shopping,” Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in an emailed statement.

I don’t disagree.

Even I find it annoying when I find myself being redirected away from a label by a telephone number, URL or QR code. Though I have the hardware to follow the links, frankly, who has the time?

And besides, the anti GMO lobby has already solved this problem AND has had it deployed for years. People don’t need to fuck around with websites, smart devices or codes . . . they just need a set of eyes. Because all they need to look for, is this:

This verification symbol has been the bane of my existence for some years now, being in the grocery retail business. Though it could indeed be seen as helpful, it worried me that this could become an unmandated standard for companies just in order to sell their food. Given the fear of ALL genetic engineering being sowed in an unscientifically literate public that doesn’t know any better, this symbol could serve to become a beacon of safety. Even if a food being non GMO is not everything.

And then there is this rather hilarious gem.

Non-GMO Project label doesn’t mean product is non-GMO, Canadian Food Inspection Agency says

After forcing some companies to change their labels over complaints of the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) now says the “butterfly” label does not imply a non-GMO claim.

The regulatory enforcement change came last year, after complaints poured in from across the country regarding products that featured the Non-GMO Project Verified label, but didn’t meet the Canadian definition of a genetically modified organism (GMO). Some complaints were also filed when the label appeared on products where there are no genetically modified or engineered options on the market.

University of Waterloo microbiologist and professor Trevor Charles made the original complaint against the company for the grape tomatoes label. He says the company’s claims are false and the label is just a marketing tactic. “The CFIA should have an issue with this label,” Charles says. “The marketers want to differentiate themselves when there is no difference at all.”

I love when scientists and other intelligent people unknowingly parrot my previous words from years ago. Marketing tactic . . .

A++ public statement in my book.

Also to be commended, is my nations food watcher, the Canadian food inspection agency. This is not the first time I have seen them take action when product has crossed the boarder only to run up against our (seemingly) more stringent standards. Having standards is half the battle. Being willing and able to enforce them is equally important.

But, as for the Non GMO Project, be weary. For one thing, there is this. They are essentially acting as an arm of big organic. Though, such pro business leanings aren’t surprising when capitalists are allowed to self police.


But most of all, one mustn’t forgot vigilance in the face of a label. Like gluten free, hormone free or other beneficial marketing tactics, it all REALLY doesn’t matter if your going to be eating junk food as a diet.

Reminds me of when I bought some pea pods to nibble on, thinking they were better than the alternative (chips). Had I read the label, I wouldn’t have had to throw away the peas and just opt for the honest junk food.

Shop smart.

Butterfly label issues aside, this whole saga outlines the seeming incompetence in how this was approached by the USDA. Likely because big biotech had undue influence in the whole situation.


None the less, the need for clarity was clear. No redirects or shenanigans. Just a simple but effective label. A label accompanied by a public education campaign would have been great. But one thing at a time.

Back to the opening article.

In today’s announcement, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the new labeling standard increases the transparency of the nation’s food system, and ensures clear information and labeling consistency for consumers about the ingredients in their food.

“The standard also avoids a patchwork state-by-state system that could be confusing to consumers,” he added.

But Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which advocated for term “genetically engineered” on packaging, argued that the new labeling standard could sow confusion as consumers might not be familiar with the term “bioengineered.”

Thus is where the public education campaign would step in.

All it would take is a pamphlet. Either mailed direct to consumers (with the rest of the weekly food flyers?), or available directly at stores, farmers markets and other food distribution locations.

Secondly, Jaffe said, the new standard allows an exemption for highly processed ingredients such as sugar and vegetable oils that are chemically indistinguishable from their non-GMO counterparts.

“Most studies have shown that consumers expect highly processed ingredients to be labeled and many food manufacturers want to provide that information. CSPI agrees with the decision to disclose highly processed ingredients as ‘derived from bioengineering’ but disagrees with USDA’s decision to not mandate that disclosure,” he wrote.

I can’t help but to revert back to earlier in this post, the part about nutritional awareness. Frankly, if you find yourself choosing between processed foods on the basis of bioengineering, you have already lost the battle.

The vast majority of sugar beet, corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered for insect resistance or herbicide tolerance, Agri-Pulsenoted.

Representatives for corn, soybean and sugar beet growers approved of the final regulations. “America’s corn farmers need a consistent, transparent system to provide consumers with information without stigmatizing important, safe technology,” National Corn Growers Association president Lynn Chrisp of Nebraska said, as quoted by Agri-Pulse.

There is nothing much else to focus on in the remainder of the piece, so time for the close.

The USDA could have done better. Hopefully all parties will realize this when it comes time to make implementations (DON’T MESS AROUND WITH URL REDIRECTS OR QR CODES!), but we will see.

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