US food manufacturers must alert US consumers to the presence of genetically modified ingredients through labels, QR codes, or text messages, the US Department of Agriculture announced in late December. The new regulation, required under a 2016 law, opts for the term “bioengineered food” for this disclosure. It applies to foods containing “detectable genetic material that has been modified through lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.” This includes genetic traits such as resistance to certain pesticides.
The Center for Food Safety, an activist group, faults USDA for prohibiting the terms best known to the public—genetically engineered or genetically modified organism—to describe organisms that scientists created by tweaking DNA. The organization says most consumers associate the word bioengineered with biomedical technology.
The rule exempts highly refined items such as sugar or oil derived from a bioengineered crop because they don’t contain detectable amounts of modified genes. The center says this means most foods on the US market made with genetically modified ingredients, including soda and candy, won’t carry a label.
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, an industry group, says the regulation “provides a mechanism for consumers to access clear, consistent and truthful information about food in a way that does not stigmatize the role of technology in food production.”
In the rule, USDA lists ingredients that manufacturers must disclose unless records demonstrate that they are not bioengineered. The list initially consists of genetically modified alfalfa, apples, canola, corn, cotton, eggplant, papaya that is resistant to the ringspot virus, pink flesh pineapple, potatoes, salmon, soybeans, sugar beets, and summer squash. USDA will revisit and possibly revise the list annually.
The disclosure requirement takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, though compliance won’t be mandatory until Jan. 1, 2022.