Genetically modified foods will be labelled ‘bioengineered’

key takeaways

  • From January 1, 2022, manufacturers must comply with new labelling guidelines.
  • Bioengineered food labels can include the word “bioengineered,” which is the bioengineering logo created by the USDA, a QR code, or a phone number for texting for more information.
  • Advocates worry that the new term will confuse consumers and that food companies could exploit regulatory loopholes.

Grocery shoppers must embrace a new term: bioengineering.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established a federal standard to label GMO foods as “bioengineered” or “derived from bioengineering.”

While consumers may be more familiar with these existing terms, labels previously labeled “genetically engineered” (GE) or “genetically modified organism” (GMO) will no longer be used.

The USDA defines bioengineered foods as “detectable genetic material that has been modified by certain laboratory techniques and cannot be found through conventional breeding or in nature.”

Some experts and advocates worry that the term “bioengineering” will lead to consumer confusion.

“It’s not the term preferred by the public, and our data support that,” Dr. Cara Cuite, a health psychologist in Rutgers’ Department of Human Ecology, told VigorTip.

A 2013 study Cuite co-authored showed that more than half of U.S. consumers knew little or nothing about genetically modified foods, but most of them had some negative views about them.

Why does the USDA require bioengineered food labels?

Before this new USDA rule, there were no national requirements for food manufacturers to label GMO crops or ingredients.

Some companies voluntarily include information about GMOs and GMO ingredients on their packaging. In 2010, the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization that verifies the supply of non-GMO foods, began labeling non-GMO foods with its own label, which has been adopted by thousands of retailers and manufacturers.

Some states have their own rules, while others don’t require labels at all. In 2014, Vermont became the first state to pass a GMO labeling law. However, a federal law requiring the USDA to develop standard labeling requirements overturned Vermont’s state law two years later.

“It’s to avoid a patchwork approach. Vermont might have one set of rules, New Hampshire might have a different set of rules. If you need different labels, it becomes very challenging to try to sell food in both places,” Cuite said .

What does a BE label look like?

Manufacturers have four options when labeling bioengineered foods:

  • Use of the word “bioengineered” on packaging
  • Standard logos marked “Bioengineered” or “Derived from Bioengineering”
  • Consumers can scan QR codes for more information on bioengineered products
  • A phone number where consumers can text to learn more about bioengineered products

There was no text on the label that the USDA originally proposed, Quait said. When her team researched public perceptions of the original design, they found that most consumers thought the symbol meant “happy” or “natural.”

“We’re happy to see that these symbols now have text. I think this is a very important step that the USDA is taking,” she said.

Food manufacturers only need to use one of four options on their packaging, but the QR code and phone number options may present challenges for some consumers, said Dr. Josh Herring, a professor of food biochemistry at Alabama A&M University.

“Both require consumers to take extra steps because they can’t directly read or view the information on the food packaging. Consumers need to scan a code or send the text of a specific word or code to get more information,” Herring told VigorTip.

In 2017, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), part of the USDA, examined potential challenges associated with digital bioengineering labels. AMS reports that 85% of consumers experience technical challenges when using certain mobile apps or scanning digital links.

“This may be due to wifi, connectivity or the ability to use mobile apps, which may reduce consumers’ ability and desire to seek additional information,” Herring said.

Digital labels aren’t the only place where consumers are being asked to put in extra effort. Anyone, including consumers, can report products that they believe do not meet bioengineering standards. The USDA will then investigate it.

Which foods will be labeled?

Not all bioengineered foods need to be labeled. According to the USDA, “highly refined ingredients (such as some sugars and oils) and foods that are primarily meat, poultry, or egg products do not require disclosure of bioengineered foods.”

According to the Center for Food Safety (CFS), the vast majority of bioengineered foods fall into the “highly refined” category. “These regulations are not intended to inform the public, but are designed to allow businesses to conceal their use of genetically engineered ingredients from customers,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of CFS, said in a release.

Food products sold by “very small” suppliers also do not have to comply with labelling requirements. Food served by restaurants, airplanes and food trucks is also tax-free.

Are Bioengineered Foods Bad For You?

Report from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine It was concluded that the bioengineered food is safe to eat. These foods were on the market long before the USDA created new labels.

An up-to-date list of bioengineered foods and their safety information can be found on the USDA website.

Some consumers are choosing to avoid GMOs, and the new labels are another tool they can use when deciding which groceries to buy.

Like the USDA “Organic” label, the BE label does not indicate whether a product is healthy or nutritious. “These labels simply inform consumers of the ingredients used in the food,” Herring said.

Cuited reiterated that the only thing that changed was the label, not the product. She added that consumers who have avoided GMOs may already be looking for organic or non-GMO labels.

“For most people, I don’t think their food choices will change much, but it really remains to be seen,” Cuite said.

what does this mean to you

Research shows that GMO foods are as safe to eat as non-GMO foods. If you decide to avoid GMO foods, keep an eye out for these new labels on grocery store shelves. But keep in mind that certain foods and manufacturers are exempt from the new bioengineered label.