US: USDA introduces controversial label for GM food
by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued an ordinance regulating how food containing genetically modified ingredients is to be labelled in the USA in future. Consumer protectors criticized the regulation as inadequate.
The regulation stipulates that only foodstuffs that can be proven to contain genetically modified genetic material must be labelled. The genetic material must have been modified by recombinant DNA, i.e. DNA produced outside the organism and artificially introduced. It must also be a modification that does not occur in nature and that even theoretically, cannot be produced by conventional breeding techniques. This means that most of the genetically modified plants with genetic scissors such as CRISPR/Cas are not covered by the regulation.
Insufficient and non-uniform labelling of GM foodstuffs
The marking itself can be done by means of a label on the packaging. It bears the words 'bioengineered' (biotechnological) and shows a stylized field symbol with sun. Food from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that can no longer be detected (such as oil from GMO soya) can be voluntarily labelled with the logo and the words 'derived from bioengineering'. Instead of using the logo, manufacturers can also simply use the text or make the information available via a scanable QR code.
The labelling rules do not apply to animal food produced with genetically modified feed. All catering establishments and very small food producers are also excluded. An unintentional or technically unavoidable contamination of up to 5% is permitted, based on the respective ingredient. In contrast: Within the EU only 0.9 percent are permitted. The USDA regulation will enter into force at the beginning of 2020. Manufacturers must have implemented the labelling rules by the beginning of 2022.
QR-label discriminates consumers without necessary technology
The US consumer organisation Center for Food Safety (CFS) criticised that most genetically modified foods would not have to be labelled with this regulation. Instead of creating clarity and transparency, the Ministry has created confusion and uncertainty among consumers, retailers and manufacturers," said CFS Managing Director Andrew Kimbrell. CFS is particularly critical of the possibility of hiding the label behind a QR code. This requires a smartphone and a reasonable broadband connection, which is particularly rare in rural areas, argues Kimbrell.
The QR labeling discriminates against over 100 million Americans who do not have the necessary technology. Kibrell also finds it incomprehensible that the label does not use the terms 'genetically engineered' or 'genetically modified organism' (GMO), which have been used for 30 years, and instead uses the unusual term 'bioengineered'.
USDA ignores label criticism
The basis for the USA-wide uniform labelling is a law that was passed by the Congress in the summer of 2016. It was intended to prevent the much stricter labelling efforts of individual US states from coming into force. The USDA had presented the concrete form in May 2018, but did not react to the criticism already voiced at that time.