What’s new with GMOs

New bioengineered food standards go into effect.

USDA bionengineered logo.
Photo: USDA.

There has been a lot of information in the news lately about GMOs and government label requirements. In order to straighten all of this out, we need to go over a few definitions first. To start, what are GMOs? According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a GMO is a “genetically modified organism.” The USDA defines genetically modified as “the production of heritable improvements in plants or animals for specific uses, via either genetic engineering or other more traditional methods. Some countries other than the United States use this term to refer specifically to genetic engineering.”

To provide further clarification to consumers, the USDA has announced that food manufacturing companies will have to identify certain foods as “bioengineered” or “derived from bioengineering” instead of identifying foods as GMO. So that brings us to the question of what is meant by the phrase “bioengineered foods”? Bioengineered foods are a specific category of GMOs. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that bioengineered foods (BE) are “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.” 

On January 1, 2022, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard went into full effect. This rule asserts it “is intended to provide a mandatory uniform national standard for disclosure of information to consumers about the BE status of foods.” This is important because it offers uniformity in labeling. Previously, in some states like Vermont, “food offered for sale by a retailer that is entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering must be labeled accordingly,” and in other states, such as Michigan, there were no such requirements.

The new BE standard “requires food manufacturers, importers, and certain retailers to ensure bioengineered foods are appropriately disclosed.” There are several ways that food manufacturers can disclose this information to consumers. Most food producers can label their products with a text description, one of the USDA’s BE symbols, an electronic or digital link (such as a QR code), or a phone number consumers can text for more information. Small food producers or food items that come in small packages can simply provide consumers with a phone number or web address.

With this new standard, consumers across the United States will be able to better identify if the products they are buying contain bioengineered ingredients, although they may have to reach out to food manufacturers electronically for more information rather than relying on food packaging labeling alone. Additionally, consumers can rest assured that the FDA affirms that “GMO foods are as healthful and safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts.” For answers to your food safety questions, call MSU Extension's Food Safety Hotline at 1-877-643-9882.For more information on food safety, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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