Bioengineered Foods: Bye-Bye GMOs!
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines bioengineered foods as types of food that “contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques that cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature”.
A little history on GMOs and Bioengineered Foods
In 2014 Vermont passed a Non-GMO labelling law, but Congress passed a law in 2016 which preempted Vermont’s law. During 2019 and 2020, the USDA released draft guidelines and final guidelines on how retailers and food producers shall label products and in stores. Producers and retailers have a mandatory compliance date of January 1, 2022.
What is a Bioengineered Food?
The USDA standard defines bioengineered foods as those containing detectable genetic material modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.
The list of 13 bioengineered conventional crops are:
- Apple (Arctic variety)
- Eggplant (BARi Bt varieties)
- Papaya (ringspot-virus resistant varieties)
- Pineapple (pink flesh)
- Salmon (aqua advantage)
- Sugar beet
Despite widespread familiarity with the terms GMO and Genetically Engineered, the new labels will exclusively use the term Bioengineered to refer to food that contains genetically modified DNA.
In fact, companies are prohibited from using the terms GMO, genetically modified and genetically engineered to describe products that do contain genetically modified material on the label.
What to look for on the package
Despite the potential for confusion, USDA offers food companies several different ways to legally label bioengineered foods, to be determined at the company’s discretion.
- Written disclosure: The most direct option companies can choose is to provide a written disclosure on the ingredient panel that says bioengineered food or contains a bioengineered food ingredient.
- Symbol: Companies may instead choose to disclose using a symbol designed by USDA that reads BIOENGINEERED.
- Electronic or digital disclosure: Companies can choose to include a QR code on the package, readable via smartphones, that will lead to a written bioengineered food disclosure when a customer scans it (maybe you followed one to get here). One of the least transparent options, a serious drawback of this method, is that it is unfair to shoppers who do not have a smartphone and/or reliable internet access to view the bioengineered food disclosure online. In certain circumstances, companies could also use text messages, phone numbers or web addresses to provide a bioengineered disclosure.