As we’ve written about in the past, there’s often been a debate on how products with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) should be labeled. Just before the holidays, the USDA announced new standards for labeling food with GMOs. While many of us were enjoying good food and time with friends and family, we may have missed these new standards.
We’re proud to provide non-GMO food, and unlike larger manufacturers, we think that everyone deserves to know what’s really in their food. And after taking a look at the new USDA labeling standards for ourselves, we’re not convinced that they’re good enough.
What Exactly Are GMOs?
A Genetically Modified Organism or GMO is created in a lab. Scientists add or delete genes to and from plants and animals to create more “desirable” genes. These lab-created organisms contain genes that aren’t found in nature, and they’re often not submitted to long-term tests before they’re sent to markets and stores.
What Do the New Standards Mean?
In the United States, GMO foods aren’t required to be labeled. This means that consumers might be buying food that contains GMOs, without even knowing it.
While there has been some discussion of updating labeling laws in the last year, these laws are have been making slow progress. This new standard called the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard defines bioengineered food as “…those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.”
The standard also establishes guidelines for when and how food manufacturers and importers must disclose bioengineered ingredients. A list of these bioengineered foods has been created in order to help these manufacturers decide whether their food needs to contain a disclosure.
Why This Standard Isn’t Good Enough
While this might sound like great news to some, at Tommy’s we’re standing with others who feel these new guidelines aren’t enough. Here’s why:
It Doesn’t Take Effect for Years
The USDA isn’t requiring manufacturers to start labeling their food products until January 1, 2020. For small food manufacturers, this date isn’t until January 1, 2021. Additionally, the mandatory compliance date for product labeling is in 2022. This means companies have 3 years before they are actually required to put labels on their food disclosing what’s in it. This isn’t soon enough!
It Doesn’t Require “GMOs” to be Disclosed
While it might seem like this standard requires GMOs to be disclosed, that’s not exactly true. What is actually required is for manufacturers to disclose “bioengineered food,” but not “genetically modified organisms.”
You might be wondering what the difference is, but it’s quite a big one. GMO has become a widely known term for lab-made food and changing the label to bioengineered food might not have the same effect on consumers. We think this is a way to be less transparent and make it harder for average people to know if their foods contain GMOs.
The “Labels” Leave a Lot to be Desired
The new required labels from the USDA aren’t exactly ideal. Producers can choose to disclose their bioengineered food in one of four ways: text, a symbol, a digital link, or a text message.
Because these food manufacturers can choose their form of disclosure, they can choose to make a symbol that might suggest to consumers their product is made or grown naturally. Additionally, the use of links or text messages cuts out individuals without access to phones, tablets, or even internet access.
Not Every Product That Needs a Label Will Have One
According to the Non-GMO project, many meat and dairy products won’t require a disclosure, because animal feed isn’t covered by this standard. This means that animal products produced from animals who are fed GMOs won’t be labeled as containing bioengineered ingredients, even though this feed can have a real impact on the quality of meat produced.
How You Can Avoid GMOs
With all the debate around labeling laws, wondering how can you avoid food with GMOs in it? Don’t worry, we’ve got some tips for you.
- Stay up to date on GMO news. You can take a look at our Non-GMO resources, or check out websites like the Non-GMO Project.
- Know the foods that are at a high-risk for GMOs. You can find a list from the Non-GMO Project here.
- Look out for verified Non-GMO foods (like us!), with the blue and green label.
The biggest thing you can do…
The most important thing you can do, if knowing how your food is produced is important to you, is take a stand and be vocal about those feeling. Reach out to your representative and tell them you want GMO foods to be clearly labeled as such. Do your research on products and vote with your dollar. Don’t buy unlabeled food. The more of us that join together to support this initiative, the more it will stay at the forefront of our legislators’ minds.
Are you taking a stand against laws like these? Leave us a comment and let us know how!