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No more GMOs? Nope, it's just the new USDA "bioengineered" labeling rules.

April 15, 2022

Foods that get a lab-produced boost are no longer considered “genetically modified organisms” (or GMOs). They are now considered “bioengineered”.

This is actually not “news”. The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law was passed by Congress in July of 2016. However, the mandatory compliance date for all food manufacturers, large and small, happened on January 1, 2022.

The new standard defines bioengineered foods as “those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

The Agricultural Marketing Service needs to maintain a list of bioengineered foods and crops. This list is used to decide whether or not a company needs a bioengineered food disclosure on their products.

I took a look, and the list is sadly not exhaustive. It seems that only crops and salmon are listed. You know, crops like Monsanto corn that’s resistant to glyphosate, has greater yield, and other plant superpowers. And AquAdvantage salmon that’s been genetically altered to grow faster.

A concern is that the new bioengineered labeling guidelines are not required for “highly refined” ingredients or foods with “undetectable amounts” of bioengineered ingredients, like soda or cooking oil. “Natural flavors” or other lab-produced ingredients do not automatically count as “bioengineered”. 

There’s definitely some gray area.

It’s also important to note that the old “certified organic” and “NON-GMO Verified” labels will remain. Dietary supplements need to follow the new guidelines, but restaurants do not.

At this point, if you look closely, you can see the difference when grocery shopping. A food company must disclose that the food is bioengineered, but they can choose between 3 ways of doing that. Here’s what to look for.

1. Food producers can use one of these approved logos made by the USDA.

2. They can include text on food packages that says "bioengineered food" or "contains a bioengineered food ingredient." It would be in the fine print on a label; or

3. They can use an electronic or digital link. In other words, a QR code. This can be viewed as sneaky and also discriminatory. For example, the elderly or the Amish or those living with low incomes may not have access to a smartphone to access this information.

Which labeling option do you think most companies will choose?

The reason that the federal government gives for this change is greater transparency in our nation’s food system. But critics think this actually makes it more confusing.

The government wanted to create consistent food labeling and guidelines so companies know when and how to disclose that their products contain bioengineered ingredients. I commend the idea behind it, but maybe politics messed up the “when” and “how” parts of that initiative.

Given options 2 and 3 above, I’m thinking that transparency may officially be a greenwashed term.

If you’re concerned about bioengineered foods, it’s becoming more and more important to not only read the fine print on packages but also any information provided in links on that package. 

At Miller’s we believe that everyone has the right to know what’s in their food. There’s no fine print or hidden info. We provide so much information on our website. And, if you still have a question, please ask. The customer service team is happy to help!

What do you think? Is the new “bioengineered” term appropriate? Are lawmakers moving in the right or wrong direction? How do you feel about bioengineered foods?

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Sources

  1. GMO is out, 'bioengineered' is in, as new U.S. food labeling rules take effect
  2. USDA Labeling for Genetically Modified Food Updated
  3. BE Disclosure (USDA)
  4. List of Bioengineered Foods (Agricultural Marketing Service)


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