"GMO" is now "Bioengineered": Navigating the New GMO Labeling Law.

Updated: Apr 13

If you take one thing away from this post, please let it be this: the terms “GMO” and “Genetically Modified” are no longer being used on food packaging. They're being replaced by the term “Bioengineered”. But you may never know if your food contains bioengineered ingredients. Why? The reasons are listed below.

To avoid confusion and to allow our readers to become accustomed to this new term, most of this article uses “bioengineered” to mean what has formerly been known as genetically engineered (GE), genetically modified (GM) or genetically modified organism (GMO).


You may have heard that a new GMO labeling law went into effect as of January 1, 2022 in the United States. However, that statement is misleading, as genetically modified/engineered foods are still not required to be labeled on food packages. Instead, the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard makes it even more confusing to determine which foods contain genetically modified ingredients.


What is Bioengineering?

Most commonly found in alfalfa, Arctic apples, canola, corn, cotton (cottonseed oil), eggplant, Hawaiian Rainbow papaya, pink pineapple, potatoes, Golden rice, salmon, soybeans (soy), summer squash and sugar beets, bioengineering (formerly knowing as “genetic engineering” or “genetic modification”) is a way of producing organisms, typically plants and animals, that are not part of natural selection. In our food supply, this is done for a few reasons:

  • Make plants pesticide-tolerant so the plants can withstand pesticides which kill the nearby weeds, insects, etc. that would otherwise weaken or damage the plant or its produce.

  • Make plants toxic to insects so insects that attempt to eat the plant are poisoned and die. This is accomplished by pre-coating bioengineered seeds with neonicotinoid insecticides, which are systemically expressed throughout the plant and its pollen as it grows. This results in the bioengineered crops and synthetic pesticides becoming intertwined and part of an inseparable system.

  • Stop potatoes from bruising and apples from browning.

  • Force salmon to grow faster.

All of this is supposed to make it faster and easier to feed the world, but this claim has never been proven [1]. Instead, bioengineered foods come with a huge cost – our health.


The True Cost of Bioengineering – Our Health

There are many ways that bioengineering negatively impacts plants and subsequently, the food produced by those plants. For example, once sprayed on and absorbed by a plant, pesticides (which include herbicides and insecticides) cannot be washed off [2]. While they do not directly kill plants bioengineered to withstand them, these pesticides are still harmful to the plant’s health, as well as the health of humans and animals who ingest them. Similarly, the bioengineering that makes plants toxic to insects also makes the same plants toxic to humans and livestock, just at lower doses. And these problems continue down the food chain. The nutrition quality of dairy and meat from animals who have consumed bioengineered foods is also negatively impacted, which subsequently affects the health of the people who consume that dairy and meat. While one serving of bioengineered food will not kill you, continuously consuming bioengineered foods will eventually cause chronic health problems. [3]


The negative health impacts of bioengineered plants, animals and subsequent pesticides vary from person-to-person, depending on our own unique circumstances. However, based on independent peer-reviewed laboratory animal feeding studies, common problems linked to bioengineering and related synthetic pesticides include:

  • Toxic effects in the kidneys, liver, pancreas and reproductive organs

  • Allergies and asthma

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Reproductive problems and birth defects

  • Tumors and cancer

  • Obesity

  • Gut-related conditions, including leaky gut

  • Chronic inflammation

  • Damaged immune systems [4, 5]


Bioengineered Food Disclosure

While bioengineered foods have never required labeling in the US, due to increasing pressure to do so, a new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard went into effect on January 1, 2022. Unfortunately, instead of clearly labeling which foods contain bioengineered ingredients, this new standard makes it even more confusing for consumers to determine whether their food has been bioengineered and easier for food manufacturers to keep consumers in the dark.


According to the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard:

  1. The term “bioengineered” is replacing the terms “genetically modified organism (GMO),” “genetically modified (GM)” and “genetically engineered (GE)” on food labels.

  2. Note: This is not to be confused with the term “biologique”, which is the French term for “organic”.

  3. If the produce is bioengineered or bioengineered ingredients are present in the food, the food label is required to include one of the following, unless it meets one of the defined labeling exclusions in (3) below:

  4. A “Bioengineered” label, OR

  5. A phone number for the consumer to call/text to get more information, requiring a phone and additional time at the grocery store, OR

  6. A QR code for the consumer to scan to get more information, requiring both a smartphone and additional time at the grocery store.

  7. Bioengineered food products are not required to be labeled if any of the following criteria are met:

  8. One or more food ingredients is made from a genetically modified plant, BUT the actual ingredients contain no DNA from that plant. In this case, the food product may voluntarily disclose that it has been “derived from bioengineering”. (Examples include breakfast cereals and corn/potato chips.)

  9. The food product is made from starches, oils and/or sweeteners made from bioengineered plants, but the food product is so highly processed that no bioengineered DNA remains. (Examples include sodas and cooking oils.)

  10. The food product falls under the 5% threshold for the “unintended” presence of GMOs. For comparison, in the European Union this threshold is 0.9%. (Examples include food products from animals fed genetically modified grains, such as corn, soy and canola.)

  11. Food products that list meat, poultry or eggs as their first ingredient or their second ingredient after water, stock or broth. (Examples include frozen dinners.)

  12. Milk, cream, yogurt, cheese or any other type of dairy made from a cow that ate bioengineered alfalfa. (In other words, the majority of dairy currently on the market.)

  13. Food made with new types of bioengineering, such as gene editing, CRISPR, synthetic biology, etc. (Examples include “Perfect Day” ice cream, which is being sold under different brand names: Nick’s, Graeter’s and Brave Robot; Golden Rice, Arctic Apples and Transgenic Tomatoes. Many more bioengineered food groups in this category are currently in development, including bananas, beer, coffee, mushrooms, strawberries and wine.)

In addition, restaurants are not required to disclose to patrons whether or not the food they serve is bioengineered. And finally, the USDA will not be regularly checking for compliance among food companies. Instead, it will only investigate suspected violation complaints made by consumers.


While the USDA claims that this new labeling standard “avoids a patchwork of labeling regulations… [and] balances the need to provide information to consumers while minimizing costs to companies,” thereby making bioengineered labeling less confusing [6], many people feel that these new regulations are purposely the complete opposite. Instead, the new regulations appear to make it easier for food companies to hide what is in their food products while increasing the chance that consumers will unknowingly consume more bioengineered foods and ingredients. According to Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, “These regulations are not about informing the public, but rather designed to allow corporations to hide their use of genetically engineered ingredients from their customers.” [7]

What Can You Do?

While it’s getting harder to stay away from bioengineered foods in your diet, it is still possible to do so. By following the below steps, you’ll be able to still steer clear of bioengineered foods most of the time.

  • Look for the Non-GMO Project Verified label on any processed foods you buy (see above)

  • Buy organic. (As of right now, organic standards still do not allow bioengineered foods to be included in foods certified as “organic.”)

  • Know your food products and research the companies who make them.

  • Only patronize restaurants that are transparent about their food not being bioengineered. (If they’re not transparent, assume that their food is bioengineered.

  • Buy directly from your local farmers.

  • Buy as little processed foods as possible.

  • Learn to grow some of your own food even if it’s just a single plant.

  • Learn how to cook and bake your own food.

Unfortunately, bioengineering does not appear to be going away anytime soon. As more bioengineered produce and food ingredients come to market, I will continue to update you so you can continue to make informed dietary decisions.


Learn More About Bioengineering

Want to learn more about Bioengineering in our food supply? Here are some great resources to help you get started:

 

Endnotes

[1] https://gmofreeusa.org/education/introduction-to-gmos/

[2] https://nutritionfacts.org/video/can-pesticides-be-rinsed-off/

[3] https://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/65-health-risks-of-gm-foods/

[4] https://gmofreeusa.org/education/introduction-to-gmos/

[5] https://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/65-health-risks-of-gm-foods/

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/01/01/usda-bioengineered-food-rules/

[7] https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2021/12/29/facing-ongoing-litigation-challenge-federal-gmo-food-labeling-regulations-go

 

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