The USDA’s GMO Labeling Proposal Stinks, Here’s Why

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Why Isn’t The New GMO Labeling Proposal Good Enough?

American consumers have long been asking that genetically modified foods be labeled because of the concerning questions surrounding GMOs. In fact, according to research conducted by Just Label It, 90 percent of Americans support the mandatory labeling of GMOs.

It would seem then that the just-released GMO labeling proposal to disclose genetically modified foods on food packages published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be the answer to our prayers — that is until you look at the fine print. You can read the full 100-page report here if you want to, or scan below for the takeaways that left us scratching our heads.

The OK News About the GMO Proposal

We now have an official definition of bioengineered food. That definition is: “A food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques” and material that cannot “be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

Essentially, bioengineered food is food that would not exist without the help of a lab.

The Not So Good In The GMO Labeling Concepts

Most consumers are not familiar with the term bioengineered. Instead, we’re used to looking out for foods that are genetically modified or genetically engineered. The USDA has not created a definition for genetically modified. This means, should the labeling proposal pass, foods would be labeled as bioengineered or “BE,” which may not clearly convey what these foods really are.

The Bad Parts Of The GMO Labeling Proposal

There’s also A LOT of wiggle room on exactly what would get labeled.

  • Highly processed foods, (aka the most prominent GM ingredients) such as high-fructose corn syrup and canola oil may be exempt. The USDA argues that this is because through processing, they may have lost their genetically modified content. Huh?
  • It is unclear how much genetically modified content must be present before labeling. Should it be more than .9 percent or should the threshold be at 5 percent? We say if ANY GM content is present, it should be labeled.
  • Foods that contain enzymes and yeasts, which by the USDA’s definition would be considered bioengineered, could be subject to labeling. This would mean foods like bread, yogurt, and kefir, which don’t contain corn, soy and other common genetically modified ingredients could still be labeled as bioengineered.
  • There’s a confusing multi-ingredient clause. “Multi-ingredient food products that contain broth, stock or water as the first ingredient and a meat, poultry or egg product as the second ingredient are not subject to labeling,” reports Project Nosh. “But if the third most predominant ingredient is a meat, poultry or egg product (soup, for example) the company is required to disclose that it contains bioengineered ingredients.” Huh?

These loopholes mean that nearly 70 percent of food products that contain genetically modified ingredients will not be labeled, according to Just Label It. So we ask, who is this labeling effort for really? But, this is not the only bad news …

The Downright Ugly Portions Of The GMO Labeling Legislature

  • The proposed icon for foods that do meet the USDA’s requirements for labeling is downright misleading. Right now, they’re trying to decide if it should be a leaf, a sunburst or a smiley face.
  • Manufacturers may also use QR Codes to disclose bioengineered ingredients; meaning consumers without smartphones or those who don’t have time to pull out their phone to scan the QR Code before purchasing would miss getting this information.

We think the USDA’s labeling proposal was clearly written with the interests of big food companies in mind, not consumers.

What Can You Do To Support Better GMO Labeling?

Consumers have 60 days to weigh in on the USDA’s proposal. If you, like us, think this labeling plan stinks, click here to sign a petition advocating for clear, consumer-friendly GMO labels.