Food

Trump Administration's New Orwellian GMO Labels Won't Actually Say 'GMO'

The proposed labels are a loss for consumer transparency.

National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard Proposed Symbols
Photo Credit: USDA

On August 1, 2016, then-President Obama signed a meaningless so-called mandatory GMO labeling law that, for all practical purposes, ended an intense four-year grassroots-led campaign for consumers' right to know if their food is genetically engineered, or contains genetically engineered ingredients.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has unveiled its proposed version of GMO labels. Wait until you see them. All bright and cheery, with sunburst and smiley-faced images—but without "GMO" appearing anywhere on the labels. (You can see all of the proposed images here.)

According to Politico, the USDA's long-awaited 106-page proposal for how companies must disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients in their products includes eliminating the words "genetically modified" or "genetically engineered” and replacing them with "bioengineered."

That means no more "GMO"—instead, consumers will see “BE” on the environmentally friendly looking green and yellow images.

The images are just as insulting to consumers as the law, which the chemical and junk food industry lobbyists spent $400 million to pass—under the specious name of the "Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act."

Opponents renamed the loophole-ridden bill the "Dark (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act" because its intent is clear: Keep consumers in the dark, by creating a long list of exemptions and/or by allowing companies to opt for electronic "smart labels" instead of clear, plain language that anyone can easily read.

The Dark Act preempted states from requiring labels on GMO foods, including Vermont, which had previously passed a GMO labeling law that took effect one month before Obama signed the Dark Act. Vermont's law required far more foods and ingredients to be identified than the federal law that preempted it, and also required on-package labels stating "produced with genetic engineering."

The USDA has until the July 29, 2018, deadline for completing the rulemaking process for the law that industry lobbyists and their friends in Congress claim will establish a "mandatory national standard" for GMO labeling—but will, in reality, do little or nothing to help consumers identify GMO foods.

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Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.