You may have noticed more conversations around the topic of GMO and GMO labeling recently. Perhaps you have seen the words “Certified GMO-free” popping up on boxes or advertisements. As a consumer, you likely have a lot of questions.
Keep reading to learn about GMO labeling and regulations, what GMO or BE foods are, and what it means for you.
What is GMO?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Foods must be labeled GMO or BE (bioengineered) if the genetic makeup has been altered.
Under the United States Department of Agricultural National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, food manufacturers, importers, and any other merchants that label food for retail purposes are to properly label their GMO/BE products and ingredients. As of 2020, this standard is voluntary, meaning manufacturers do not have to comply with this unless otherwise specified.
GMO labels are small circles of text that say either “bioengineered” or “derived from bioengineering.”
If you see these labels, it means the product:
- Has been changed to make it resistant to pests, viruses, herbicides, spoiling
- Is enriched in some way, such as with vitamins or minerals
- Still safe for human consumption
Why Does it Need to be Labeled?
One of the benefits of GMO labeling is consumer transparency. Even though it is safe, you want to know what you are buying. The USDA’s regulation standards are considered voluntary now, so GMO foods may or may not be labeled. This also depends on state and import regulations.
The rules made by the National BE Food Disclose Standard become mandatory for all food manufacturers by January 1, 2022.
What does GMO-free mean?
Some people are against the process of bioengineering of genetically modifying food because they believe GMOs:
- May cause allergic reactions or have toxic effects on the human body
- Are less nutritionally dense
- Harm the quality of soil and disrupt the ecosystem
- Increase the use of pesticides
- Not properly studied to determine safety and nutrition
Though, none of this has been proven. Foods or products may earn the label “GMO-free” through organizations such as the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit that uses a third-party verification system to grant seals of approval to products. The Non-GMO Project seeks to as non-GMO or GMO-free labels to all applicable items as a way to provide consumer transparency.
To earn the label GMO-free, products are tested and ranked according to “risk factor,” or how likely they are to contain genetically modified ingredients or DNA. The products tested must remain under a certain risk status in order to be eligible for verification.
GMO has become a shorthand for “unhealthy” or “contains toxic ingredients” and GMO-free labeling may have inflated this perception. GMO labeling, whether the seal is there to indicate the presence or the absence of genetically modified material, is beneficial as it allows consumers to know what is in their food.