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Bioengineered Labeling

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the labeling of foods.  Twenty years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided that bioengineered foods (previously referred to as genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organisms (GMOs)) didn’t need to be labeled differently due to the fact they were not materially different from other food.  However, due to consumer confusion and a desire for additional information regarding their food, the USDA decided to adopt labeling as a part of the national bioengineered food disclosure standard in 2018.  As of January 1, 2022, food companies are now required to disclose information on packaging about bioengineered food and food ingredients. Foods containing bioengineered ingredients now must disclose those ingredients on packaging in one of several ways: a symbol, a statement, a digital link (QR code) or a SMS text number.

The USDA defines a bioengineered food as one "that contains genetic material that has been modified through certain laboratory techniques and for which the modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature". For the purposes of the standard, the foods that require labeling are determined by the USDA's official list of bioengineered foods. Currently, the list contains 13 items: alfalfa, arctic apples, canola, corn, cotton, eggplant, papayas, pink pineapples, potatoes, salmon, soybeans, squash (summer) and sugarbeets.

There are exceptions to the labeling requirements. Highly refined products such as sugars and oils do not require labeling as they do not contain any genetic material.  Meat, poultry and egg products do not need labeling, nor do bioengineered foods served through restaurants and other food service vendors.

The use of mandatory labeling of foods produced with bioengineering technology may imply to consumers that they are somehow less safe or inferior to non-bioengineered foods when in fact bioengineering allows farmers to produce crops as safe and nutritionally equivalent and often with environmental benefits. Such labeling should say nothing about the food’s safety. Hundreds of research studies have proven that bioengineered foods are just as safe, or perhaps safer, than their conventional counterparts.

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