The USDA’s long delayed GMO labeling rules were originally passed as a shell of a federal law which pre-empted more effective consumer-friendly labeling at the state level around 2013. After food labeling authority was transferred from FDA to USDA, the Federal Government’s USDA proposal became a blank shell of a federal law for so long that the government was sued for holding up the labeling law. Suddenly, on December 20, 2019, during the holiday season, the USDA slipped in their version of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard as a substitute for genuine GMO food labeling, with callous disregard for citizens and peer-reviewed science findings. This grand sham of a federal law is shameful and will lead to higher health care costs by hiding the presence of GMOs and associated toxins in the food supply. It is very likely designed by and for special interests. Notably, it disingenuously attempts to disguise what a simple “nonGMO” on the label would most effectively communicate to Americans and US residents. It deceives and betrays those who want and are entitled to know what is in the food they feed their families. Implementation by companies is slated during 2021-2022 by the USDA rule. You may TAKE ACTION against the USDA Rule here
In effect, deceiving the American public on GMO labeling with misleading cover language and graphics for GMO ingredients is an extraordinary disgraceful act against American families caring for their health and trying to feed their families wholesome, nonGMO foods. It is especially of concern due to the high and increasing pesticide toxin residues commonly found in US GMO foods as well associated transgenerational gene mutations and other genetic impacts from the genetically engineered process (which can be impossible for doctors to trace if the foods lack GMO labeling). USDA, EPA scientists and employees in particular have been muzzled, especially in recent years from communicating the dangers shown in peer-reviewed science around the world. It is a shameful federal action which must be remedied immediately, as it will escalate already skyrocketing health care costs, and leave families and health care practitioners in a murky morass as they try to determine root causes in diagnosing and helping their patients.
The existing and straightforward “nonGMO” labeling, which large and small companies had already put on their labels starting around 2013, to satisfy consumer needs to know about their foods, is simple to see for shoppers in the grocery aisles. The agency has now decided to use the term “bioengineered”–a term many Americans may not be familiar with–rather than GMO or nonGMO. Many Americans know the term “GMO” and can connect it to the labeling debate–so the government decides to use a different term that sounds more innocuous. If the government was actually concerned with communicating information clearly to consumers, they would simply use the term “GMO” and not other terminology with which Americans may not be familiar.
The problems continue with the definition of “bioengineered.” The definition is preposterous and entirely inadequate to capture all the different techniques for genetically modifying food that are currently being used or are in development. Gene-editing using CRISPR is one example, where scientists manipulate an organism’s own DNA to silence certain genes or express otherwise silent genes. For example, the USDA recently decided that a CRISPR-created non-browning mushroom did not have to be regulated, and following the USDA’s logic, the GMO labeling rule will not apply. That’s right: a genetically modified mushroom will not have to be labeled as GMO because the USDA thinks that the genetic change could be accomplished through normal means.
Very importantly, the USDA, taking cues from Congress, has written a labeling rule that applies exclusively to obsolete technology. The USDA’s definition of a GMO completely misses the point. Even if a particular change could have been brought about through traditional breeding, the fact that it was brought about through genetic modification in a laboratory means that consumers have a right to know, end of story.
The problems don’t stop there. The rule establishes a threshold for the “inadvertent or technically unavoidable” presence of GMO material of up to five percent; foods that meet this criteria will not have to be labeled as bioengineered. The plain fact, once again, is that even if the presence of a small number of GMOs is “inadvertent or unavoidable,” consumers still have a right to know.
There is another way that the USDA has narrowed the foods that will have to carry GMO labeling. So-called “highly-refined foods” made from GMO crops–such as sugar from GMO sugarbeets or high fructose corn syrup from GMO corn–will not require a label. The USDA argues that the presence of GMOs cannot be detected in refined products. Once again, consumers have been sold out. Just because current testing techniques cannot detect GMO material in a finished product does not mean there is no modified genetic material in the food. The whole point of a GMO labeling law is to provide consumers with information, so those who wish to avoid GMO foods can easily do so. If refined foods made from GMO ingredients are exempted, the spirit of the law is undermined.
Finally, the USDA has altered the symbol that may be used by companies to communicate the presence of GMOs. Some early proposals looked like a smiling face. The symbol the USDA chose says “bioengineered” rather than GMO and depicts a field and a sun, which is intentionally deceptive. These are natural images used to communicate the presence of decidedly un-natural ingredients in a food. It’s as if the PR department at Bayer/Monsanto came up with it themselves!
US legislators need to hold USDA immediately accountable for this dreadful, and deadly action against Americans and other residents. At every turn, it seems like the USDA has favored industry over consumers. This is unacceptable. Our government is turning a huge, manipulated deaf ear to Americans and should go back to the drawing board to amend this rule to so it adheres to the principal of a consumer’s right to know, rather than industry’s right to obscure. This should remain a government for the American peoples’ interests and it behooves us all to hold the USDA as well as their sister agencies FDA and EPA accountable for steamrolling over the results of legitimate peer-reviewed science, and it replacing it with contrived sham science which is so harmful to our population, constitutional rights, and out of control health care costs. Think of all the cancers and other ailments associated with the pesticide-dependent food supply certain industry interests are peddling at the cost of human health and associated family misery.
Tell the USDA (BEfooddisclosure@ams.usda.gov) and your legislators what you think about this dastardly USDA act during the holiday season and federal government partial shutdown.
(Editors Note: Written in collaboration with Alliance for Natural Health /ANH USA)