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New Law Could Exempt Thousands of Genetically Engineered Foods From Labeling

An analysis of newly proposed rule changes reveals that thousands of genetically engineered foods may be exempt from upcoming labeling requirements.

By Derrick Broze

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture works to establish a uniform  national standard for labeling foods that may be genetically engineered,  critics continue to call out the dangers of putting the federal  government in charge of the situation. The federal government was first  granted this authority in July 2016 when former President Obama signed  into law a bill which amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to  require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish the national standard  for labeling GE foods. The bill was hailed as a victory for activists,  and a boost for the economy as it would help keep food costs down for  low income families. Unfortunately, the bill was neither.

Instead, the bill denied states and localities the right to choose  how to label food that has been genetically engineered and gave the  power to label the food to a government with well-known close  relationships to the biotechnology industry, including Monsanto, Bayer,  Syngenta and others. Evidence that it was not a wise idea to give the  U.S. government authority over labeling genetically engineered crops   has already appeared as reports indicate that a large number of crops  may be exempt from labeling.

In early May, the Department of Agriculture released a draft rule  describing how the labeling law is supposed to be implemented. Between  May and July 3, the USDA received 14,008 public comments. The comments  indicate that some of the public is concerned about the language used  in the rule. “The term bioengineered should not be used. It is both  misleading and confusing to consumers. GMO, GE or Genetic Engineering  should be used instead,” one commenter writes. “Please make all food  items labeled correctly as GMO so consumers know exactly what they are  purchasing,” another said.

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The Environmental Working Group reports  that if companies want to label foods which are made with genetically  engineered ingredients, they must use the words “bioengineered” or  “bioengineered food ingredient,” instead of the widely known phrases  “genetically modified” or “genetically engineered.” Interestingly, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) recently conducted a survey  to see how people respond to these different labels, including new  symbols being tested by the USDA. The IFIC found that in every  combination of label, the level of concern among consumers increased. In  the survey consumers were shown bottles of canola oil without any  label, with one of three symbols (plant, sun, or smile), with a symbol  plus “bioengineered” on the label, and a symbol with “may be  bioengineered” on the label.

Thirty one percent of consumers had health concerns about the bottle  without any labeling. That concern rose to 50 percent with the  bioengineered plant symbol and to 51 percent when the “bioengineered”  text was added. The majority of the respondents who expressed concerns  about genetically engineered foods did so because of fears about human  health.

In addition, the rule may exempt foods produced with GMOs if the food  products contain highly refined GMO sugars and oils. The Environmental  Working Group conducted an analysis of the ingredients-level information  of more than 105,000 food products and found that as many as 58,377  food products contain a highly refined sugar or oil that is likely  produced with genetic engineering, like beet sugar or canola oil. Around  11,000 of these (nearly one in six) only contain a highly refined sugar  or oil produced with genetic engineering and would be exempt from  labeling. According to the new proposal, a food product need not be  labeled if genetically engineered ingredients make up less than five  percent of the product’s total weight.

“Among the other possible GMO ingredients EWG identified that are not  highly refined sugars and oils, are dozens of ingredients used as  thickening agents, colorants, flavorings, emulsifiers and binders that  are derived from highly adopted GMO crops like corn and soybeans,” the  EWG wrote. “And many of these ingredients often appear in low levels at  the bottom of ingredient lists, meaning that in combination, the GMO  ingredients in thousands of foods could fall below a 5 percent  exemption.”

Also, the USDA has yet to address how customers without smartphones  or those with bad cell service will access digital labels, such as QR  codes, which companies are allowed to use under the new law.

“When Congress passed the first-ever national GMO food disclosure law  in 2016 – and blocked states from passing or enforcing their own  labeling laws – lawmakers promised consumers a disclosure system that  would cover more ingredients and be simple to use. But the draft rule  proposed by the USDA could exclude almost three fourths of products with  genetically engineered ingredients,” stated Scott Faber, Vice President  of Government Affairs of the EWG.

The Roots of Today’s GE Labeling Fight

To understand the current battle for labeling genetically engineered  foods you must look back to 2015. At that time, the controversial Safe  and Accurate Food Labeling Act passed the House in June 2015 before  ultimately failing amid heavy opposition. To critics, the bill was known  as the “DARK” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act because the law  was also aimed at nullifying GMO labeling measures, such as a state  labeling bill passed in Vermont. Mike Pompeo, author of the bill,  criticized mandatory labeling laws as unnecessarily costly and insisted a  federal standard was the answer.

In late February 2016, U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat  Roberts introduced another bill which attempted to create a federal  voluntary standard for labeling GE food. Roberts’ Senate Bill 2609, or  the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act, would have blocked mandatory  labeling efforts by states. In March 2016, the bill failed to reach the  60 votes needed during a procedural vote, with 49 votes in favor and 48  votes against. However, by July 2016, the labeling measure was added to  the National Sea Grant College Program Act as the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.  It was that measure which was ultimately signed into law by Obama,  placing the USDA in charge of labeling America’s genetically engineered  food supply.

American consumers need to take into account the revolving door  relationship between the companies who produce the genetically  engineered products and the U.S. government, as well as the relationship  between these companies and the pharmaceutical industry. Most notably,  the relationship between the U.S. government and Monsanto (now owned by  Bayer) indicates that powerful corporations and their partners in  government are working to completely control the food and health of the  people. Only by boycotting these companies and removing your support  from government can we hope to slow down this abomination.

Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He is the Lead Investigative Reporter for ActivistPost.com and the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter. Derrick is the author of three books: The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 1, Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 2 and Manifesto of the Free Humans.
Derrick is available for interviews. Please contact [email protected]
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