Food & Agriculture

Final GMO Labeling Rule Will Erode Consumer Confidence and Increase Confusion

New Rule Excludes Large Number of Genetically Engineered Products From Coverage, and Relies on Novel Labeling and Smart Phone Technologies for Disclosures

Washington, D.C. — “Today, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service issued its final rule on labeling genetically engineered (“GE” or “GMO”) foods. The rule will implement the compromise bill that Congress passed to preempt Vermont’s GMO labeling law, just days before the state law was set to go into effect. The federal law also preempted laws passed in Connecticut and Maine. Poll after poll has shown that upwards of nine out of ten Americans want the right to know whether the food they buy contains GMOs. Unfortunately, the USDA rule will result in many consumers remaining in the dark about what foods are made with GMOs.

This is because the scope of the rule’s disclosure requirements are inadequate, exempting refined products, and failing to establish a clear standard on when products made from new genetic engineering techniques, such as CRISPR/Cas9, are subject to the rule. The rule also introduces a new term ‘bioengineered,’ rather than relying on terms like ‘GMO’ and ‘genetically engineered,’ which are already in use and which consumers readily understand. The rule lacks protections for consumers that do not have access to a smartphone or reliable internet access, and it allows companies to put off GMO labeling until 2022, an unjustifiable delay considering the large number of companies already labeling GMO ingredients.

There are some bright spots. USDA will not allow food manufacturers to rely on ambiguous statements that foods “may be” the product of genetic engineering. And the bucolic ‘BE’ disclosure symbol will at least include the word ‘bioengineered’ within it. Overall, however, the rule lets down consumers,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America.

Contact: Thomas Gremillion, 202-939-1010