GMO Foods Won't Be Marked That Way Under New Rules

Government replaces 'GMO' and 'GE' on labels with 'bioengineered'—or a QR code
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2022 1:50 PM CST
GMO Foods Won't Be Marked That Way Under New Rules
Gene-edited strawberry plants grow in a greenhouse in Boise, Idaho, in October.   (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

(Newser) – Genetically modified foods are still available in grocery stores, but the process of identifying them has changed. Shoppers will no longer see labels marked "genetically engineered" or "genetically modified organisms." Instead of "GMO" or "GE," products will be marked "bioengineered" or include a QR code, website, or phone number for shoppers looking for more information, the Washington Post reports. The Department of Agriculture said the change is in the name of consistency, to eliminate "a patchwork of state labeling regulations." Food safety advocates and others see confusion ahead.

"The worst part of this law is the use of the term 'bioengineered' because that's not a term most consumers are familiar with," said Gregory Jaffe, director of the biotechnology project for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He suspects a main driver of the change is the fact that "GMO" has become pejorative to many people. Even supporters are baffled by the timing. Consumer Brands Association asked the agency to delay the new rules until the pandemic and supply chain crises are over. "We believe the government must take a 'do no harm' position right now that allows companies to focus on delivering essential products to consumers," an official said.

The rules burden consumers further at a difficult time, too. The Center for Food Safety points out that more than 100 million Americans don't have the smartphones or cell service needed to scan QR codes. Bioengineered foods aren't a health risk, but advocates say that people who want to avoid eating them will have a tougher time deciphering labels and that the rules have loopholes. Markings such as "USDA Organic" and "NON-GMO Project Verified" still will be allowed. The USDA said it won't conduct spot checks on the labels in stores but will act on written consumer complaints, per WLS. The Post has a primer on the changes here. (Read more GMO stories.)

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