Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released the new long-waited regulations for mandatory disclosure of foods produced using genetic engineering, of GMO foods. These regulations were the result of an Obama-era bill passed in 2016 that created the first nationwide standard for GMO information on food labels. The USDA is required to release the final rules for food labels in America by July 29, 2018. The first 60 days will be a time for public commentary.
Under this new bill, food manufacturers will be able to swap out the typical clear, on-packaging label for a “QR” barcode that shoppers can scan on their smartphones to learn the nutritional facts of the product. There has been controversy surrounding this new proposal, since it requires a smartphone, as well as a steady connection to a reliable broadband connection, which one-third of Americans do not have access to. This means that 100 million people would not have access to the nutrition information while grocery shopping, leaving many in the dark about the products they are buying.
"USDA should not allow QR codes," stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. "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 labeling as the only fair and effective means of disclosure for GE foods."
These new regulations also propose that food companies replace using terms such as “genetically modified” or GMO” with only “bioengineered” or “BE”. Kimbrell believes that this will confuse customers, since “genetically modified” and “GMO” are terms that have been commonly used in the food industry for the last 30 years.
Public comments will also help the USDA decide on how to handle newer forms of genetically modified foods in the future that also go by different names or titles, such as synthetic biology, gene-editing, or CRISPR.
These regulations are the first of their kind of the national level, and will hopefully be able to pave the way for further and stronger regulations in the future. Consumers in America have been waiting decades for stronger protections when it comes to the food industry, and now progress has begun to show.
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