National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law Requires Labeling of GMOs

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
bioengineered food

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law

Overview: Mandatory compliance with the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law began on  January 1, 2022. The law requires all foods produced with bioengineered ingredients, also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to be labeled as such. 

Location: United States 

Population: 334 million

Food policy category: Food production and distribution

Program goals: To help consumers make more informed decisions about what types of foods they purchase and eat.

How it works: Rather than labeling foods as containing “genetically engineered” (GE) ingredients or “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs), these foods will now require a “bioengineered” (BE) disclosure. The disclosure can be displayed in the form of a text, symbol, electronic or digital link, phone number, or web address. 

Bioengineered foods are defined as “those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.” The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has published a List of Bioengineered Foods to inform food manufacturers and retailers about whether they need to make a disclosure on their products. 

Progress to date: The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law was passed in 2016, and the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard was published on December 21, 2018. Voluntary compliance with the Standard began on January 1, 2020, for large companies, and for small manufacturers on January 1, 2021. Compliance with the Standard became mandatory for all manufacturers on January 1, 2022. 

Why it is important: Bioengineered crops might be designed to interact with different types of pesticides (which includes insecticides and herbicides), or have pesticide-producing effects. According to Harvard University’s Science in the News, “Herbicide-tolerant genetically modified (GM) crops have led to an increase in herbicide usage while insecticide-producing GM crops have led to a decrease in insecticides.”

While there is no conclusive evidence of adverse health effects from consuming bioengineered foods, studies suggest there may be serious health risks from prolonged exposure to, and ingestion of, pesticides and weed killers. In addition, some people are simply concerned about potential risks from ingesting GMOs.

Consumers have the right to know what they are putting in their bodies, and labeling bioengineered foods will help disclose that information. 

Program/Policy initiated: Compliance became mandatory on January 1, 2022. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: Sixty-four countries, including all of the European Union, Japan, and Australia, currently require labeling of genetically modified foods. 

Evaluation: A formal evaluation of the law’s effectiveness has not yet been conducted. However, many are skeptical and do not believe the labels will change purchasing behavior, and others are concerned that the new terminology and labeling will create confusion among consumers and do more harm than good. 

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