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Are You Ready for 'Bioengineered Food' Labeling?

USDA replaces GMO term with “bioengineered food."

Foodmakers will be required to put special labels on packages of foods made with GMO ingredients effective January 1, 2020, with a two-year phase-in before compliance is mandatory, said the USDA on Thursday. The nationwide labeling law was enacted more than two years ago to prevent a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws and to settle the national debate over the foods, which the FDA says are safe to eat.

“This ensures clear information and labeling consistency for consumers about the ingredients in their food,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Instead of GMO, the USDA decided to use the term “bioengineered food.” As a result, packages will refer to BE ingredients or carry a BE symbol. Foodmakers also can use electronic links, text messages, a phone number, or a web address to disclose ingredients.

Foods with undetectable amounts of modified genetic material are not bioengineered foods, said USDA. Activists have said that standard would exempt soy oil, corn oil, and beet sugar from GMO plants. Nor would meat, milk, or eggs from livestock fed GMO rations be considered a BE food that needs labeling, said USDA.

To aid foodmakers and regulators, the USDA compiled a list of bioengineered foods that must be labeled. The USDA said it would follow the rule that BE foods contain detectable genetic materials that have been modified through lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature. It will consider new technologies and the resulting food products as they evolve to decide if they need to be labeled.

The Food Marketing Institute, a trade group for grocers, said the labeling rule brings “a more precise vocabulary into the public discourse regarding technology in food production. We look forward to working with the department to promote consumer understanding of the terminology in this rapidly emerging field.” Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall said the labeling will help food shoppers “make informed decisions on the issues that matter to them, and it protects the innovation that is critical to the sustainability of agriculture.”

So-called very small food manufacturers, with less than $2.5 million in annual receipts, are exempt from the labeling rules. They are the bulk of food companies but produce only 4% of the foods covered by the rule.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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