The USDA has released its long-awaited proposed regulations for the mandatory labeling of foods produced using genetic engineering (GE), most commonly referred to as GMOs, for genetically modified organisms.
The regulations are being proposed under what many advocacy organizations termed the “DARK Act,” because it overturned state laws on GMO labeling in favor of a federal standard riddled with flaws. Unfortunately, USDA’s proposal on how to implement the Act is just as bad as we predicted, and in some ways goes even further than the statute in keeping consumers in the dark.
USDA is accepting public comments until July 3. Below is information about the main problems with the rule, followed by details on how you can add your voice.
The proposed label options will mislead and confuse most consumers:
- Instead of using the long-accepted terms genetically engineered, GE, or GMO, the agency is proposing to use terminology that most consumers would not recognize, namely “bioengineered” and its acronym “BE.”
- Companies would be able to use a symbol instead of words or letters – and USDA’s proposed symbol includes a smiley face or a sun in pretty yellow and green colors. That’s not informational labeling, its propaganda!
- While the USDA’s own study showed that many consumers would be unable to read digital QR codes (because of a lack of a smartphone, unreliable internet, or otherwise), the agency is still proposing to allow companies to use digital QR codes in place of readable labels.
What we want: On-package text using the accepted terms “GE” or “GMO”, or an easily understood neutral symbol.
The USDA rule doesn’t even include many foods made from genetically engineered ingredients:
- New forms of genetic engineering such as CRISPR (gene editing) and Synbio (Synthetic Biology) could be excluded. But consumers aren’t looking for information on what technique was used – they just want to know whether it was made with genetic engineering or not. And foods such as oranges, cacao, potatoes, soy, and canola are in development to be “bioengineered” using CRISPR technology.
- The agency has left open whether many processed foods made with GE commodity crops should require labels. Many of these products, such as cooking oils, sodas, and candies, are so highly refined that current DNA tests may or may not “show” the GE content in the final product, despite the original ingredient indisputably being GE. If left out, it’s possible that hundreds of GE foods will not be disclosed.
- The proposed rule could allow for either 0.9%, 5% or 10% GMO contamination by weight before labeling would be required. But many of these companies are already complying with the internationally accepted standard of 0.9% — so why should U.S. consumers get less information?
What we want: Any food made with ingredients that were genetically engineered by any method should be labeled as such.
If you sign an online petition, USDA will count all of those signatures as a single comment. To really make your voice heard, you need to submit your comment directly to the USDA.
In addition, personal comments that explain your reasons have a greater impact. It’s more effective to comment on just one or two of the issues, and include your reasons, than to simply list all the problems we discuss above.
Deadline: July 3, 2018, at 11:59 pm.
Before you go to the Regulations.gov website, write your comment down in Word or another file – that way, if there is an internet glitch, you don’t lose it. Use the discussion above to help you choose which issue(s) you want to comment on.
- Go to https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=AMS-TM-17-0050-0004
- Copy and paste your comment in the top box, or attach the file
- Fill out your personal information and then click the “continue” button at the bottom.
- It will go to a page that shows you what your comment will look like on the site. It also allows you to edit the comment if you want to.
- At the bottom, there will be a statement that you have to confirm: “You are filing a document into an official docket. Any personal information included in your comment and/or uploaded attachment(s) may be publicly viewable on the web. I read and understand the statement above.”
- Click the box, then click “submit comment” under it. The site will give you a receipt with your comment number on it.
That’s it. You’re done!
You can also send your comment in by fax or mail:
MAIL: Docket Clerk, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Room 4543- South, Washington, DC 20250
FAX: (202) 690-0338
Faxed or mailed comments should include the following reference:
Date Posted: May 4, 2018
Federal Register Number: 2018-09389
Docket ID: AMS-TM-17-0050Agency: Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)Parent Agency: Department of Agriculture (USDA)
TAKE ACTION #2
Are you a farmer or small food business that will be directly impacted by the new rule? The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a voice for small businesses within the government, and submits its own comments to agencies on proposed rules.
The SBA will be hosting a teleconference to discuss the USDA’s proposed rule at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 14, 2018, and will be taking public comments to help them understand how small businesses may be affected. Teleconference participation details will be provided upon receipt of RSVP. RSVPs should be sent to Prianka.Sharma@sba.gov. Parties interested in presenting oral comments during the teleconference should indicate this in their RSVP. Each participant will initially be granted three minutes to speak.
This teleconference is for small businesses ONLY. The SBA can be a great advocate for us, and we don’t want to waste this opportunity. If your concerns are related to your role as a consumer (i.e. you do not have a business that is directly impacted by the GMO labeling rule), you can help by sending your comments to USDA, as outlined above.