Law must come in by 29 July

Law must come in by 29 July

The US government has issued its proposals for how to label food containing genetically-modified ingredients.

A draft plan on the labelling of what the administration calls "bioengineered foods" was issued on Friday (5 May) with the US Department of Agriculture inviting feedback over the next 60 days.

The move comes after President Obama signed a law in 2016 prohibiting state labelling laws in favour of a federal standard. The USDA has to issue the final rules by 29 July this year.

However, the proposal shows the USDA has yet to come to firm positions on issues including how much genetically-modified material a product contains before needed to be labelled.

The draft, meanwhile, is looking for feedback on whether "highly refined" foods will be covered by the new regulation.

Such foods, including cooking oils and confectionery, may have ingredients derived from genetically-engineered crops but, after processing, the ingredients may not be detectable. 

The USDA is also considering options on how food that does qualify for a seal will be labelled. The department has put forward a number of ideas, including using text such as 'contains a bioengineered food ingredient', using symbols or putting so-called "quick response", or QR, codes, on packs.

US non-profit The Center for Food Safety also took aim at some of the USDA's proposals, such as the use of the terms "bioengineered" or "BE" and the suggestion manufacturers could use QR codes to disclose the presence of genetically-modified ingredients.

"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," Andrew Kimbrell, the non-profit's executive director, said.

He added: "USDA should not allow QR codes. 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. USDA should mandate on-package text or symbol labelling as the only fair and effective means of disclosure for GE foods."

Another US non-profit, The Environmental Working Group, described the publication of the proposals as "an important milestone" but said the proposals so far leave "many fundamental questions unanswered".

Scott Faber, the non-profit's senior vice president for government affairs, said: "Consumers deserve a simple disclosure that covers all genetically engineered foods, including sugars, oils and the products of modern biotechnology. They should not have to fumble with their cell phones or only get half the story."

just-food analysis from August 2016: US food companies gain crucial concession on GM labelling