GMO Labeling Rules - 6/14/18

 

Key issues with the Proposed Rules and suggested comments:

1) Reject "QR codes" and other discriminatory options for on-package labels.

The USDA proposal would allow companies to affix packages with "QR codes," encoded images that must be scanned by a smartphone in order to see if it is a GE product. However, because QR codes require a smartphone and a broadband connection, they discriminate against over 100 million Americans, especially rural communities and low-income or elderly populations who may lack access to these technologies. Similarly, access to information via on-package website URLs or text messaging should also be opposed. All of these methods are time-consuming, inaccessible for many Americans, and act as a barrier to true transparency. This indirect form of food labeling would also be unprecedented.

Action: Urge USDA to insist on clear, on-package labels to maximize the benefits of required disclosures to all consumers.

2) Allow for use of common, well-established labeling terms.

USDA proposes to restrict the terms "genetic engineering" and "GMO," despite the fact that consumers, companies, and regulators have used these terms for over 30 years. Instead, USDA would allow only the rarely-used term "bioengineered," or worse, the unfamiliar acronym "BE," to denote GE content, which would mislead and confuse consumers. Companies in the marketplace are already labeling their products with "GMO" or "GE" and USDA should permit that to continue.

Action: Demand that USDA allow for the use of "genetic engineering," "GMO," or "GE."

3) Require neutral symbols.

The disclosure law also permits the use of symbols instead of text. However two of three symbols proposed by USDA are cartoonishly pro-GE, with blatantly biased "smiley faces" (see below).

 

Symbols should be content-neutral and easy for consumers to understand, like a circle with "GE" or "GMO" inside it.

Action: Tell USDA to eliminate the biased symbol options. Demand that USDA eliminate examples #2 and #3 as possibilities and if using example #1 ensure that it says "GE" or "GMO" not "BE."

4) Include all processed foods produced with genetic engineering.

Most GE products are highly processed, made with GE crops such as corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets. Many of these products, such as sugar from GE beets, are so highly refined that DNA tests may not actually "show" the GE content in the final product. USDA's proposal may not require these products to be disclosed as GE, including cooking oils, sodas, and candies. This would be highly misleading, confusing, and would fail to inform consumers.

Action: Tell USDA that any meaningful standard must include these GE products regardless of how highly refined they are, instead of being based on the current status of DNA testing technology.

5) Ensure future food products made with newer forms of genetic engineering are covered.

Companies are currently experimenting with newer forms of genetic engineering, such as gene-editing. Foods such as oranges, apples, cacao, potatoes, soy, and canola "bioengineered" with CRISPR are in development.

Action: Tell USDA to ensure that any foods made with these newer forms of GE are required to be labeled.

6) Harmonize with the European Union standard.

USDA proposes two options for foods that are GE because of unintentional contamination. Disclosure would only be required if GE contamination exceeded either 0.9% or 5% of the specific ingredient (by weight). We believe that the 0.9% threshold is better because it is high enough to cover contamination; has long been established in the European Union and so would facilitate trade with EU countries; and it aligns with existing standards of many U.S. food companies.  A third option – to permit even intentional use of a GMO ingredient up to 5% of the entire food item's weight – would exempt the great majority of GE foods from mandatory labeling and should be vigorously opposed. 

7) Demand disclosure now, not postponed until 2022.

The labeling law requires regulations be finalized by July 29, 2018. However USDA would allow companies to postpone GMO labeling until 2022 and permit them to use up labels without GMO content information. This is an entirely unreasonable delay. Many companies are already labeling.

Action: Demand that companies be required to use GMO content labels by January 1, 2020.