Important Call to Action with Packaged Food Labeling - GMO’s and the USDA’s Proposal

Does the proposed national system for disclosing the presence of bioengineered material help consumers or fail to provide the transparency needed?

On July 29, 2016, the President signed into law the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (Public Law No. 114-216) which, in part, directs USDA to establish a national standard to disclose certain food products or ingredients that are "bioengineered." As a result, the regulations USDA issues will establish requirements for labeling of human food products derived from biotechnology.

The Secretary of State was tasked with developing the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) for disclosing any BE food and any food that may be bioengineered, however the proposal fails to effectively offer consumers the transparency they’ve long awaited.

Comments on the proposed rule must be received by July 3, 2018 to be considered.

Whether you understand the implications of GMO foods or not, the important part is that even if you don’t today, but later learn of the many levels of harm they cause from toxins to food sustainability, we won’t have transparency if we don’t take the call to action.

There’s a reason big food companies don’t want the public to know and don’t want to disclose. Keeping you in the dark keeps you purchasing these GMO foods and keeps you confused. Time to force greater clarity to give you back your choice whether to consume foods that have been bioengineered or NOT.

What are GMO’s or Genetically Modified Organisms?

Different than conventional breeding or hybridization, the two primary reasons to engineer is to insert foreign DNA into the genome, in this case, of a plant. One toxic substance that kills pests when they bite into a plant is known as BT, a gram positive bacteria, otherwise derived from soil, is spliced the plant’s genome. Guess too house many ‘bugs’ that keep you alive and thriving and when you consume these GMO foods (found in most packaged foods not labeled either organic or Non-GMO Verified), these toxins wreak havoc on your gut microbiome. Studies show that a healthy microbiome is critical to overall health.

The other primary objective is to make the plant ‘tolerant’ to the effects of the weed killer RoundUp - the active ingredient called glyphosate has been labeled a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Glyphosate blocks the shikimate pathway, disabling the plant’s ability to make essential amino acids that our human bodies require to function optimally and reducing the ability for our food to provide the nutrients we need to thrive. This molecule also has been shown to reduce soil fertility, increase soil erosion and chemical runoff into our waterways and oceans, affecting the aquatic habitat. What’s worse? Most of the genetically modified crops are being produced by the pesticide companies themselves, including Monsanto. All in all, GMO’s, since introduced into our food system in the 1990’s have been a disastrous test on our population, increasing the amount of glyphosate in the environment by 15 times.

What can you do?

Clear labeling helps keeps you in control. But if the disclosure statement provides loopholes for big AG companies, we may be given a false sense of security and not be able to have the transparency we deserve as many GMO ingredient labels may not be required.

Here are several problems with the proposed disclosure statement to which you can respond. We must use our voice to have a say.

  • It does not provide clear requirements for companies to label ingredients derived from GMO crops, like sugars and oils, which could allow up to 70 percent of GMO products to go unlabeled. Many of these GMO ingredients are already disguised in the packaged food, canola, corn and soy and their derivatives and milk (cows are fed GMO corn and soy) fed to our population, notably our kids who have an increased risk for harm as kids are more susceptible to toxins and the food they eat is being used to grow and develop their body’s tissues.
  • There are a long list of exemptions:

    1. Today, food expenditure outside of the home makes up approximately 50%, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service - this means convenience and restaurant food is a primary source of the American dietary pattern. For example, restaurants will be exempt from including any mention of GMO ingredients. This is a modern day game of roulette.
    2. Rules for newer bioengineering methods are not clearly stated.
  • The method for labeling may not even be seen from the package, but a QR code, which requires scanning technology and even more barriers that would prevent anyone who has ever had a tech mishap, not had service, has a dead battery and even more discriminatory, anyone who doesn’t have access to the technology in the first place.
  • The alternative logos presented for on-package labeling uses unfamiliar terms like BE or bioengineered as opposed to the more commonly understood Genetically Modified or GMO and misrepresents the objective of a neutral disclosure rather proposes a confusing marketing symbol with a sun and smiley face.

Follow these two steps!

Click the link below to sign the petition AND submit your comments by July 3rd to influence the transparency and accessibility to clear and accurate labeling and disclosures.

Here is a sample that you can paste into the USDA comments:

Re: Docket No. AMS-TM-17-0050

As a consumer, I have the right to know if my food is produced using genetic engineering (GE). As USDA develops the rules for mandatory GE food labeling, I urge the agency to adopt the following: 

(1) Reject “QR codes” and other discriminatory options to on-package labels: Because they require a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection, QR codes would discriminate against more than 100 million Americans – especially many rural communities as well as low-income, minority, and elderly populations – known to disproportionally lack access to these technologies. USDA’s own 2017 study illustrated this. Access to information via on-package website URLs or text messaging should also be opposed, as it’s unavailable to some and impractical as many people are charged per texts sent and received. These methods are time-consuming and act as a disincentive for true transparency. This indirect form of food labeling would be unprecedented. I urge USDA to insist on clear, on-package labels with text and/or an easily understood symbol to maximize the benefits of required disclosures to all consumers.

(2) Allow for the use of common, well-established labeling terms, such as GE or GMO: USDA proposes to restrict the terms “genetic engineering,” and “GMO,” despite their use for 30-plus years by consumers, companies, and regulators. The term “bioengineered,” and the entirely unfamiliar acronym “BE,” is misleading and confusing. Companies are already out in the marketplace labeling using the well-established terminology “GMO,” or “GE,” and USDA should permit that to continue.

(3) Require neutral symbols: The disclosure law permits the use of symbols instead of text. However two of three symbols proposed by USDA are cartoonishly pro-biotech propaganda, with blatantly biased “smiley faces” and a sun. USDA should eliminate these biased symbol options, and again, allow the symbol to include the acronym “GE,” or “GMO.”

(4) Include all processed foods produced with genetic engineering: The vast majority of GE foods are not whole foods, but processed foods, made with GE commodity crops such as corn, soy, canola, and sugar derived from GE beets, including cooking oils, sodas, and candies. USDA’s proposal has two options, one in which these products are required to be disclosed as GE, and one in which they are not required to be disclosed. If these products are left out, it’s possible that hundreds of GE foods will not be disclosed. This would be grossly misleading, confusing, and fails to inform consumers. Any meaningful standard must include these GE products regardless of how highly refined they are.

(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, cacao, potatoes, soy, and canola “bioengineered,” with CRISPR are in development. USDA must ensure that any foods made with these newer forms of GE are required to be labeled.

(6) Require disclosure now, not postpone to 2022. The labeling law requires regulations be finalized by July 29, 2018. However USDA would allow companies to nonetheless postpone GMO labeling until as late as 2022 and instead permit them to use up labels without GMO content information. This is an entirely unreasonable delay. Many companies are already labeling. USDA should companies be required to use GMO content labels by January 1, 2020.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.


See Also

EWG Commentary

Center for Food Safety