GMO labelling law in U.S. receives mixed reviews

Farm groups and food companies are pleased with a new United States labelling law governing genetically modified organisms, but non-GMO certification bodies and consumer groups call it a farce.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard came into effect Feb. 19, but won’t be in full force until Jan. 1, 2022.

The national, mandatory labelling law regulates 12 GM crops and fruits ranging from alfalfa to suga r beets. The only animal covered is salmon.

Farm groups were pleased with the law. The National Corn Growers Association said it walks the line of providing transparency to consumers “without stigmatizing important, safe technology.”

“NCGA came together with stakeholders from across the value chain to support enactment of the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act because it prevented a state-by-state patchwork of labelling laws that would have cost U.S. consumers, farmers and manufacturers billions of dollars,” NCGA president Lynn Chrisp said in a news release.

The grocery industry was also happy. The Food Marketing Institute praised the USDA for its efforts.

“We have been working closely with USDA and our coalition partners throughout the supply chain to ensure the final rule provides consistency and clarity to the customers shopping in any of our membership’s 33,000 retail food stores,” FMI president Leslie Sarasin said in a news release.

But according to the Non-GMO Project, the new law doesn’t come close to providing grocery shoppers with the information they are seeking.

“We’re quite disappointed in what the USDA has put out,” said Kristin Wheeler, communications manager with the organization, which provides voluntary certification of non-GM food.

“It certainly to us does not provide the transparency that we believe all Americans deserve.”

One of the biggest shortcomings of the new law is that animal feed is exempt, which means meat, eggs and dairy from animals fed a diet containing GMOs will not require disclosure.

Wheeler said most feed ingredients in the U.S. are GM crops.

Other exemptions include highly refined foods such as many snack foods.

Products of new genetic modification techniques such as CRISPR, TALEN and RNAi are also excluded from the new labelling law.

“It’s another really big miss,” she said.

Wheeler said the law also provides an out for food companies that don’t want to attach a GMO symbol to their products. Instead, they can disclose the information by text message, electronic or digital link, toll-free phone number or web address.

“I’m a fast grocery shopper and I’m not going to take the time to do all of that pre-work,” she said.

Consumer and anti-biotechnology groups such as the Centre for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth and Consumer Reports were also highly critical of the new law.

The Centre for Food Safety said the law will leave the majority of GM food unlabelled.

“The USDA has betrayed the public trust by denying Americans the right to know how their food is produced,” executive director Andrew Kimbrell said in a news release.

“Instead of providing clarity and transparency, they have created large scale confusion and uncertainty for consumers, food producers and retailers.”

Wheeler said one good thing about the law is it permits the continued use of voluntary non-GMO claims from certification bodies such as the Non-GMO Project.

She said Non-GMO Project certification is far more rigorous than the USDA law. The group has certified more than 54,000 food products.

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