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Daily News Blog

11
May

USDA Proposed Rule for GE Labeling Criticized as Misleading

(Beyond Pesticides, May 11, 2018) Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its long-awaited proposal for disclosing the presence of genetically engineering (GE) in foods. Much to the disappointment of health, environmental, and consumer advocates, the draft rule appears as an attempt mask or to promote GE products, rather than caution consumers. Concerned individuals can send comments to USDA on the proposed rule through regulations.gov until July 3rd.

USDA’s Proposed Labels for GE foods

USDA’s proposal will move forward with wholly insufficient disclosure requirements that the Department’s own study had indicated are discriminatory, according to analysts. Rather than use the phrase “genetically modified,” or “genetically engineered,” or include the acronyms “GE” or “GMO,” USDA is using the term “bioengineered.” The symbols proposed by USDA are a happy, smiling sun that would read either “bioengineered” or “may be bioengineered food.” Of course, such a symbol suggests to consumers that these foods are a positive, rather than concerning addition to a food product. However, USDA is also giving the option of simply including the words “bioengineered food,” “contains a bioengineered food ingredient,” or even leaving that language out and directing consumers to a QR code.

A lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety forced USDA to release a congressionally mandated study on the viability of using QR codes, small barcodes that must be scanned with a smartphone app and require broadband internet access. The research reinforced the common sense around the issue: low-income and rural residents, individuals unfamiliar with QR codes, and those without access to a smart phone or internet services will lack access to this information. The study concluded that “offline alternatives are necessary for consumers who lack access to a scanning device or broadband.”

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of USDA’s proposed rule is that it has left the decision whether to label “highly refined” GE products like cooking oil, snacks, candy, and soda up in the air. If USDA were to determine these foods did not require labeling, consumers would be no better off than before the weak and controversial bill was signed into law by President Obama in 2016.

Consumer, health, and environmental advocates primary concern with GE foods is not the health issues of eating GE foods themselves, but the multitude of up and downstream impacts created by GE agriculture. Despite promises of disease-resistance, drought-tolerance, and vitamin enhancement, GE crops have primarily been developed by multinational agrichemical corporations as a way to increase profits by vertically integrating their seed and chemical divisions. Farmers that grow GE crops are locked into a contract that requires they use one specific company’s seeds and pesticides. This is bad for farmers and our agricultural economy, and it further erodes the preservation and development of heirloom and regionally adapted seed varieties.

Herbicide-tolerant GE crops have been associated with massive increases in herbicide use and the rampant takeover of US farms by weeds which, through incessant herbicide spray, have themselves developed genes to resist herbicide mortality. As glyphosate, the most common herbicide developed for crop tolerance, has decreased in effectiveness, chemical companies began rolling out new GE crops using older herbicides like 2,4-D and dicamba that rival glyphosate’s toxicity. Chemical companies have also incorporated insecticides into the crop itself, with evidence that resistance in target pests is trending synthetic insecticide use upwards.

Concern over farmers and our economy, farmworkers and their exposure, the impact of these pesticides on wildlife and the environment, and the likelihood for these overused pesticides to show up on GE foods make it clear that consumers should have a right to know whether their purchase contributes to the ongoing crisis GE crops create.

Beyond Pesticides strongly encourages individuals to provide substantive comments to USDA through regulations.gov before the July 3rd deadline. For more information on this toxic form of agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides Genetic Engineering program page, and for a history of the GE labeling movement, see the Daily News archives.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Regulations.gov, Modern Farmer

 

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