USDA Requires GMO and Bioengineered Labeling by 2020

Bioengineered Labeling Guidelines are here.

Since the heated push for GMO labeling set forth in legal measures such as Prop 37 in 2012, there has been a demand for the labeling of GMO and bioengineered foods from many consumers across America.

Here’s the kicker, although Prop 37 ultimately failed, and the conversation has mostly left the public stage, lawmakers have been pushing for GMO labeling behind the scenes.

In fact, in July of 2016 Congress directed the USDA to establish a mandatory standard for the labeling of bioengineered foods called The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law. This congressional act passed with little media coverage, likely due to a contentious election cycle. Nonetheless, on December 20th, of 2018, the USDA released its final ruling on the matter with a 239 page text.

Here’s the deal, although this is a huge step in the right direction, things may not be exactly as they seem, and the labeling may be slightly misleading in certain cases.

Let’s take a look.

Vegetables on shelf in supermarket

Overview of Bioengineered Labeling Standards

Fist of all, it is important to know the meaning of bioengineered foods. Bioengineered is a broader term than GMO, and with “gene edited foods” set to hit the market in 2019, that’s a good thing.

Definition of Bioengineered food.


The definition of bioengineered  set forth in the USDA’s regulation is:

food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (rDNA) techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature; provided that such a food does not contain modified genetic material if the genetic material is not detectable

This definition would exclude crops that can be found in nature, or those breed using traditional growing techniques; such as hybridization and selective breeding.


Included and Excluded Bioengineered Foods

The standards put forth by the USDA sets the standards for which foods will be “included” in the bioengineered labeling standards and which will be “excluded” from labeling.

Foods that will Require a Bioengineered Label

The list of  bioengineered foods to be labeled includes:

“alfalfa, apple (ArcticTM varieties), canola, corn, cotton, eggplant (BARI Bt Begun varieties), papaya (ringspot virus-resistant varieties), pineapple (pink flesh varieties), potato, salmon (AquAdvantage®), soybean, squash (summer), and sugarbeet.”

Bioengineered foods such as those listed above will have to be labeled on most products which contain them by the Jan. 1st, 2020, though smaller companies will have until Jan. 1st, 2021 to comply with the standards, with mandatory complience by Jan. 1st 2022.

Exclusions to Bioengineered Labeling Law

Here’s the catch, the bioengineered food label will not apply to all products which include bioengineered crops. The list of exclusions includes:

  • Ready-to-eat products prepared by grocery stores
  • Food served in restaurants or similar establishments.
  • Pet and animal foods
  • Distilled or malt beverages
  • Wine and beer (excluding wine with less than 7% alcohol per volume and beer made without malted barley or hops)
  • Foods derived from animals which have eaten GMO or bioengineered foods
  • And a few more. does an excellent job of covering the exclusions and inclusions in detail, along with examples of some of the odd, and slightly misleading labeling practices which may occur.

How will you be able to identify Bioengineered Foods?

There are several ways in which food manufacturers can comply with the new labeling regulation. Some are very straightforward, others are a little less obvious.

Ways in which Bioengineered foods will be labeled:

  1. Using the USDA approved Bioengineered symbol
  2. Text stating “bioengineered food” or “contains bioengineered food ingredient”
  3. QR Code or similar scannable image which will provide more information
  4. By printing a phone number on the packaging for more info via text or call

What’s the Bottom Line on Bioengineered Labeling?

I for one was surprised to see this regulation passed by the USDA.  Despite paying rather close attention to these types of issues, I had not heard anything of the congressional directive in July of 2016. This is a great step forward in labeling genetically modified products, that many consumers chose to avoid.

With new CRISPR gene-edited foods set to arrive on grocery store shelves in 2019, this legislation is critical for those how are concerned about the possible safety concerns, and issues surrounding bioengineered foods.

The complete text of the USDA’s ruling on Bioengineered food Labeling.

In similar news

The ruling that Monsanto’s Roundup was responsible for causing a groundskeeper non-hodgkin’s lymphoma was upheld on appeal.  Monsanto will still be held liable for their negligence, and for hiding evidence which showed the true dangers of glyphosate and Roundup exposure. With over 8.000 cases pending against Monsanto it will be interesting to see what happens in 2019.

More on bioengineered food labels;


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