Posted: Jan 07, 2022
As of January 1, 2022, food that’s been previously known as a GMO or genetically engineered food will have a new “Bioengineered (BE)” label. If the term leaves you confused or searching your favorite online encyclopedia, you’re not alone. Critics of the new legislation are concerned that the new GMO “rebrand” may cause even more confusion and less transparency than its predecessor.
The Center for Food Safety, a San Francisco–based nonprofit whose stated mission is to protect the earth from “harmful impacts of industrial agriculture,” has already filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to strike down this and other labeling laws instituted by the Trump administration.
“Consumers have fought for decades for their right to know what’s in their food and how it’s produced,” stated Meredith Stevenson, an attorney for the center, in a press release. “But instead of providing meaningful labeling, USDA’s final rules will only create more uncertainty for consumers, retailers, and manufacturers.”
Most consumers are familiar with the term that "bioengineered" replaced — GMO, which stands for genetically modified organism. A GMO is a “plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology,” which results in combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and virus genes that don’t occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods, according to the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit that aims to inform the public about what is in their food and how to access non-GMO choices (and whose verification seal has been one of the most prominent ways to identify non-GMO packaged foods).
The definition of a bioengineered food is quite similar. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a bioengineered (BE) food is “food that contains genetic material that has been modified through certain laboratory techniques and for which the modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.” Despite this definition, some exemptions in the BE labeling mandate mean that many foods that contain GMOs by current standards may not have to be labeled that way under the new guidelines.
1. Although the New Labeling Requirements Are Different, Your Food Is Still the Same
These labels — both the Non-GMO Project label and the new Bioengineered label — are marketing tools, says Peter Goldsbrough, PhD, a professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who specializes in GMOs and GMO educational practices. “If you read the USDA position on this, it’s clear the labels are for marketing purposes, to let consumers know what they’re buying,” says Dr. Goldsbrough. Unfortunately, this new terminology may confuse people. “Most consumers are already unclear about what GMO means, and this will probably add to that,” he says.
Still, the new labeling doesn’t change anything about the composition of the food we're purchasing and eating, Goldsbrough says. Humans have been genetically modifying crops using selection and breeding since agriculture began, over 11,000 years ago. “The types of food ingredients that have been genetically engineered or bioengineered are going to remain the same,” he says, “and there will be new foods added as the technology continues to develop.”
2. There Is No Evidence That GMO or Bioengineered Foods Pose Any Health Risks
“I think one of the most important things that people need to know is that there are no health safety concerns about consuming GMO foods,” says Goldsbrough. “That’s the position of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA], the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Agency — all these agencies have concluded that there’s no safety concerns with the genetically modified foods that are on the market today.” The presence — or absence — of a non-BE or Non-GMO label doesn’t mean that a food is healthy or unhealthy, he adds.
3. Not Every Food That Contains Ingredients From a Genetically Modified Crop Is Required to Have a Bioengineered Food Disclosure Label
Food items that contain ingredients that are considered “highly refined” — such as sugar and corn oil — don’t require bioengineering disclosure, so they'll have no BE label. For example, when genetically modified corn is processed to make oil or corn syrup, the resulting “highly refined” ingredient shows no detectable DNA from the bioengineered crop, and therefore is not required to bear a bioengineered label. Excluding foods that use these ingredients makes the number of foods that will have a BE label considerably smaller, says Goldsbrough. “An awful lot of things contain corn or soybean oil.”
Food industry and food advocacy groups are divided on the omission of these products, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, but the USDA decided that an ingredient is not a bioengineered food if the genetically modified material is undetectable, says Goldsbrough.
Advocates for disclosure claim that there is evidence that the highly refined ingredients contain genetic material, even if it’s not detectable. Many products made with newer GMO technologies such as CRISPR, TALEN, and RNAi are currently untestable and therefore don’t require a BE label, according to the Non-GMO Project.
Even though it’s not required, some companies may choose to disclose that they are using those highly refined ingredients that come from genetically modified crops, according to the USDA. These foods may state “Derived From Bioengineering” or “Ingredients Derived From a Bioengineered Source” on their label.
4. Some Foods Are Exempt From the New BE Labeling Law
Products made with meat, poultry, or eggs are exempt from the BE labeling law. Multi-ingredient products in which meat, poultry, or eggs are the first ingredient are also exempt, even if other ingredients in the product do have detectable levels of modified genetic material.
The USDA gives the example of a can of pork stew that also contains genetically modified sweet corn. If pork is the main ingredient and listed first on the ingredient panel, the can of stew wouldn’t be required to have a BE label because meat is exempt from the labeling requirement. If the stew lists water, broth, or stock as the first ingredient and pork as the second, that would also not require a BE label because water, stock, and broth don’t “count.” The only way the stew would earn a BE label is if there was more corn than pork in the stew.
Because the new bioengineered definition leaves out foods that contain the “highly refined” oils and sugars that are derived from genetically modified food as well as multi-ingredient foods (such as the pork stew example), the position of the Non-GMO Project is that “the Bioengineered Food labeling law is ineffective at finding GMOs and avoiding GMOs, largely because of restrictions, loopholes, and exemptions.”
5. Non-GMO Labels and Bioengineered Labels Will Coexist
Foods that have detectable modified genetic material and are considered bioengineered will be identified on their packaging or label with one or more of the following:
6. Seeking Out Certified Organic Foods May Be the Easiest Way to Avoid Foods That Are Bioengineered or Genetically Modified
Products that sport a USDA Certified Organic label must be free of GMO and bioengineered ingredients. “This was decided because the organic food industry does not want to use foods that are genetically modified, and it’s a way of distinguishing their brand from conventional foods,” says Goldsbrough. So for consumers who want to avoid bioengineered foods, seeking out certified organic foods is probably the simplest and most reliable way to do that. “Although there isn’t evidence that GMO foods are harmful, it’s consumer choice,” he says. “If people wish to avoid genetically modified foods, this is one way to go about that.”
By Becky Upham
Source and complete article by: everydayhealth.com
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