Though it’s not yet clear which highly processed ingredients will be labeled as genetically modified foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released possible designs for those labels.
The labels fulfill a law passed in 2016 that gives food companies three options to disclose GMO ingredients: a line of text, a scannable QR code, or a symbol. It is meant to be an impartial notice to shoppers, and the labels avoid the polarizing term “GMO.”
Yet, one of the label designs released this month is a smiling orange and green sun with the letters “b-e” standing for “bioengineered,” which is the word used in the law.
“It’s not neutral to put a happy little sunny face on there,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of the anti-GMO group Food and Water Watch.
More than 90 percent of the corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola and cotton produced in the U.S. is genetically engineered to resist pests or herbicide. Those crops often show up in processed foods as high-fructose corn syrup, canola oil or soybean oil. By that point, the modified DNA has been processed out of it.
“Corn oil doesn’t have any DNA or any protein in it,” said Greg Jaffe, who tracks biotech policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and supports the labeling law.
He said leaving refined ingredients made from GMO crops out of the labeling requirements would fit the law’s definition that bioengineered food “contains genetic material.”
And some big food companies might be off the hook, Jaffe said, depending on what the USDA decides.
“All of those sodas that use high-fructose corn syrup: Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, 7 Up: Those may or may not have to be disclosed,” he said.
But consumers who are keyed in to the GMO issue may have more on their minds than scraps of DNA, according to Lovera.
She said they may be thinking about the business or farming systems behind the crop.
“Things like the associated herbicides, the business model of genetically engineered seeds and the patents and what (seed companies) charge farmers,” Lovera said.
She added that the USDA should require labels on any product with ingredients derived from GMO crops.
The agency is considering that, too, with a possible exemption if a company can prove no DNA remains. The labeling plan is open for public comment until July 3rd.
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