The rules that dictate how companies must tell consumers when they are buying genetically engineered food are open for comment.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking input on a proposed rule to create the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which was passed by Congress in 2016. Comments are due by early July.
The standard will provide a uniform way to offer meaningful disclosure for consumers who want more information about their food and avoid a patchwork system of state or private labels that could be confusing for consumers and would likely drive up food costs, the agency said in a news release.
However, the consumer group Center for Food Safety said in a news release that the USDA’s proposal was lacking. The group said the USDA proposes to allow manufacturers to choose to use “QR codes,” which are encoded images on a package that must be scanned, as a substitute for on-package labeling. The group said QR code labeling would discriminate against millions of Americans who don’t have access to a smartphone, which is required to read a QR code.
“USDA should not allow QR codes,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety, said in a news release. “USDA’s own study found that QR codes are inherently discriminatory against one third of Americans who do not own smartphones, and even more so against rural, low income, and elderly populations or those without access to the internet.”
The group also found fault with the fact that the USDA proposes to disallow the terms “genetic engineering or GMO,” and use only the term “bioengineered,” or “BE.”
“USDA’s exclusion of the well-established terms, GE and GMO, as options will confuse and mislead consumers, and the agency must instead allow the use of those terms,” Kimbrell said in the release.
Under the proposal, the USDA will define “bioengineered” as food:
- That contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and
- For which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.
The USDA will welcome public comments on what could be considered to constitute “bioengineering,” according to the proposal.
There are several bioengineered produce commodities that are available commercially, but none of them have been widely adopted so far, according to the USDA. They are non-browning cultivars of apples (Arctic apples), sweet corn, papaya, potato, and summer squash, the USDA said.
“This rulemaking presents several possible way to determine what foods will be covered by the final rule and what the disclosure will include and look like,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the release. “We are looking for public input on a number of these key decisions before a final rule is issued later this year.”