The new USDA labeling for genetically modified foods goes into effect on January 1. This is what you need to know.

Image Credit: (Jim Mone / AP)

Starting January 1, grocery store labels will be renewed for foods that have been genetically modified.

The goal was to get rid of the mosaic of various food and ingredient labels that had been scientifically modified, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

However, the measure also places a greater burden on consumers to do their homework to understand what the labels mean, food advocates say.

Modified Organisms (GMOs) are now labeled bioengineered or given a phone number or QR code to direct consumers to more information online. The changes are part of the new USDA rules for plants and ingredients.

Controversial modified foods have been regulated differently. By providing a unified national standard for bioengineered food labels, it “bypasses a patchwork of national labeling regulations,” a USDA spokeswoman said in a statement.

The move generally confuses food safety stakeholders. Consuming biologically engineered foods does not pose any risk to human health, according to the National Academy of Sciences and the Food and Drug Administration; However, watchdog organizations say the new regulations contain too many loopholes for consumers looking to avoid these foods.

“The worst thing about this law is the use of the term ‘bioengineering’ because most consumers are not familiar with the term,” said Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project leader at the US Center for Science, a non-profit organization. profit. He said this choice was primarily due to the perception of “GMOs” as derogatory.

Other stakeholders, such as the Center for Food Safety, say the rules don’t go far enough and leave most GM foods unlabeled.

The new rules discriminate against the more than 100 million Americans who do not have access to smartphones or cellular services, as businesses can rely on scannable smartphone-based QR codes to share information with consumers. to disclose whether food is produced biotechnologically or uses biotechnologically produced ingredients, so established terms such as “transgenic” and “GMO” are removed from the labels. Other types of official certifications such as USDA Organic and NONGMO Project Verified are allowed.

Manufacturers of dietary supplements must adhere to these as well, but restaurants and other catering establishments do not have to adhere to the new rules. An industry that is already volatile, according to food manufacturer and corporate trade groups, said Betsy Booren, senior vice president of the Consumer Brands Association trade group, who while the organization supports a unified framework for the disclosure of modified foods, has urged government officials to pause the new rules temporarily.

“We believe the government should take a ‘do no harm’ position at this time, allowing companies to focus on delivering important products to consumers,” he said. the need to provide information to consumers interested in minimizing costs to businesses, adding that those costs could be paid to consumers, according to a USDA spokesperson.

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