It was with less fan fare than a back page story that the new GMO guidelines were signed into law by President Obama on July 29, 2016. Advocates for clearer food labeling worked hard for some time to bring this issue to the forefront. The idea was not to try and pass aggressive legislation that eliminated Genetically Modified Organisms in foods, although many countries have done just that, it was to give the consumer the tools to make an educated choice. This is legislation that affects each and everyone of us whether we are for or against or are simply uninformed on the subject.
As we look at this new GMO bill that recently made its way through congress and then ratified by the President, what is interesting, and shall we say somewhat amazing, is just that. That during one of the most deadlocked times in our federal governments history, lawmakers were actually able to pass any bill into law, let alone this one so quickly and with so much backing on both sides of the aisle. It makes one wonder just how much influence the major players including Monsanto and other GMO producers have within our political process. And as we take a closer look at the merits and wording of the bill it becomes a little concerning that the bill, shall we say, has no real teeth and just as concerning, it can easily be outflanked. Let’s take a closer look:
The USDA will have two years to finalize regulations granting smaller companies an additional year to comply with whatever it is they finally decide. Additionally, very small companies that do less than $1 million in sales, such as the local bakery or butcher perhaps, will not have to comply at all. Also food served in restaurants will be exempt.
This law leaves so much to the discretion of the USDA that it would actually be possible for the department to decide not to label an otherwise obvious Genetically Modified Organism such as soy or corn, as GMO. But what is perhaps most concerning, is that the law clearly states that any by-products of GMO foods such as oils, sugar, proteins, corn syrup and other refined food ingredients do not have to be labeled on the package as genetically modified. Instead, the consumer would have to call an 800 number or scan a QR code on the label to visit a website to try and determine if the product contains GMO ingredients.
This new GMO labeling law essentially does nothing to assist consumers in making an educated decision when it comes to purchasing meat and animal products. Although there are no GMO meat products on the market at this time GMO salmon has been approved and will likely be available soon. Animals that are raised on GMO feed and the products they yield such as meat, milk, eggs, milk and cheese will not have to labeled as GMO in any form. And when GMO salmon finally hits the market, it too will not have to be labeled because the genes used to modify the organism are found in nature and not engineered in a lab.
The law is so vague and the USDA’s authority so limited that companies that do not comply will not face any penalties nor will they be subject to any mandatory recalls. Affectively, a company could produce a food product that is loaded with GMO ingredients and boldly label it as non GMO and not be forced to alter course.
So what is a concerned consumer to do? The best option which has been here all along is to purchase foods that are third party Certified Organically Grown. This standard still, at least for now, ensures GMO free choices. Another good option is to look for foods that are certified GMO free by the Non GMO Project, this is a non-government, private organization that has garnered a respected reputation for stringent guidelines and testing. You can check them out at NonGMOProject.org, or just look for the butterfly on the label.
As good as this new law might look on the surface it appears to fall a little short. Therefore at the end of the day, it is up to the individual to educate themselves and get informed.
Written by DMK of Seven Grains Post comment/question at www.sevengrains.com/food-for-thought