Critics Complain as New US Agriculture Dept Label Rules Replace ‘GMO’ With ‘Bioengineered’

"As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) changes its labeling rules for genetically modified foods in the new year, critics say the new move adds work for consumers and creates large loopholes for suppliers," writes The Hill. Starting on Saturday, foods containing "genetically engineered" GE ingredients or "genetically modified organisms" (GMOs) will now simply be marked as "bioengineered," according to The Washington Post. A phone number or QR code on the packaging may also direct consumers to more information, a decision some argue discriminates against people without access to a cell phone or smartphone, the Post added. The USDA has said the change "avoids a patchwork of state labeling regulations" to provide a national standard for the labels that were once set on a state-by-state basis. But critics say the term could create confusion among consumers. "The worst part of this law is the use of the term 'bioengineered' because that's not a term most consumers are familiar with," Gregory Jaffe, director of Center for Science in the Public Interest's biotechnology project, told the Post. The Center for Food Safety has also criticized the rules, saying it will leave the majority of genetically modified foods unlabeled, the Post added. Specifically, the USDA sets an exemption threshold at 5 percent of "unintended" genetically engineered ingredients. In the European Union, the standard is markedly lower at 0.9 percent. "Consumers are left not knowing if it's not present or if a food company just chose not to disclose," Peter Lurie, president of Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Post. The new rules also don't cover products with meat, poultry or eggs as their first ingredient (or their second ingredient after water, stock or broth). Lurie complains to the Post this will leave no disclosure for prepared foods in the freezer aisle like meat lasagna or chicken burritos: Eating bioengineered foods poses no risk to human health, according to the National Academy of Sciences and the Food and Drug Administration. However, watchdog organizations say the new rules contain too many loopholes for consumers who want to avoid these foods... The USDA will respond to complaints. There will be no in-store spot checks of food products. Anybody who suspects a violation may have occurred can file a written complaint with the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service website. "The already overburdened consumer is going to have to spend four times as much time in the supermarket reading labels," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. "And now they'll have to be USDA citizen investigators to make sure this law has some consequences."

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