January 1st, 2022 marked the final compliance date for a labeling law passed back in 2016 as it pertains to bioengineered foods. What are bioengineered foods? Simply Genetically Modified Foods.
Since the emergence of chemically manufactured fertilizers, a battle has waged over what cultivation practice was best, organic methods or yearly inputs of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. With technological advances that led to the ability to clone and modify genetics the chasm between the two camps grew exponentially and thus spawned the labeling movement. The first of these was the organic certification, the other is the labeling of genetically modified foods aka bioengineered.
If genetically modified or GMO is the same as bioengineered why the name change? It’s simple, name recognition. Although official FDA science maintains the safety of ingesting genetically modified foods the term GMO has very negative emotional baggage tied to it. In an attempt to dump that baggage, they chose to use a less well-known term. To help all of us become a bit more accustomed to the new verbiage I will be using GMO and bioengineered interchangeably.
As I stated, there had been calls for the labeling of genetically modified foods and products. Polls showed that 90% of Americans supported on package labeling. States began to answer the call. Vermont made the first move and passed its own labeling laws in 2014, while neighboring states had similar drafts at the ready. Big Ag cried to Big Brother and the result was The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard of 2016.
This standard’s main objective is to impede on states’ rights. The act states “No state or political subdivision of a state may directly, or indirectly establish under any authority or continue in effect to the labeling or disclosure of whether a food is bioengineered or was developed or produced using bioengineering for a food….that is not identical to the mandatory disclosure requirement.” Sorry Vermont, you’re not allowed to govern yourself.
The next issue is applicability. The standard states that meat, poultry, and eggs are all subject to labeling requirements if said animals are results of bioengineering/genetic modification. However, they cannot be considered genetically modified if they simply consume and are grown using bioengineered feed. Nice double standard. Organic feed gives organic meat, but bioengineered feed does not give bioengineered meat.
For multi-ingredient foods they will only require labeling if their most predominant ingredient is genetically modified. If that predominant ingredient is water, or broth, like in soups and stews, then only if the second most predominant ingredient is bioengineered will it need a label. Even if every ingredient after is genetically modified no label is required. Finally, if the genetic material of the modified food is not detectable in the final product it does not need to be labeled. Even knowing the entire USA sugar beet seed production switched to 100% GMO since 2008, because the genetic material cannot be detected in the sugar, they are not required to label the product as bioengineered. Sounds a lot like a NON-DISCLOSURE STANDARD.
For the few items that will require labels the manufacturer/retailer has a few options to choose from: a symbol, text, phone number, QR code or website link. Now the government explicitly states that in the event an electronic or digital link is used manufacturers/retailers “may not collect, analyze, or sell any personally identifiable information about consumers or the devices of consumers. BUT if those identifiers are needed to convey the applicable bioengineered information, it shall be deleted immediately and not used for any other purpose.” Well then, I feel so much better, knowing the government has my right to privacy in the forefront of their minds. If you can’t tell, I’m being facetious.
Nothing about this Disclosure Standard helps the consumer to make an informed decision. That’s the point, knowledge is power, and they don’t want people to have or exercise their power. The concept of the federal governments intervention being benign in the name of protecting the consumer is a facade at best.