New GMO labeling regulations are coming. Here is what you need to know.

By January of 2022, food retailers and manufacturers nationwide will be required to comply with the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, a federal rule that has the potential to muddy years of GMO-labeling education and legislation efforts. If all this sounds confusing to you, that’s because it is, which is the crux of the problem. I’ll do my best to lay it out for you so you know what’s coming your way.

First, how we got here: In the spring of 2014, Vermont passed the first comprehensive labeling law in the country, Act 120. The law caused widespread concern among federal legislators, who envisioned a proliferation of similar—and potentially conflicting—state laws popping up all over the country.

The feds then envisioned a single national standard for GMO labeling that would take the place of numerous state laws. In theory, this sounded like a good idea, one that would provide consumers with simple, consistent, transparent information about what’s in the food they eat.

In 2016, Congress passed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law. The subsequent National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, announced in December of 2018, is the implementation of that law. The Standard requires mandatory compliance by 2022.

So what’s the problem with the Standard? For many people who care about GMO labeling, here are four big areas of concern:

Terminology. The Standard uses the terms bioengineered or BE, rather than the more readily understood nomenclature of GMO. The term GMO has nearly two decades of education work behind it and is highly recognized by consumers.

Transparency. The Standard will label foods with a QR code instead of using a simple message printed on the package that’s written according to Plain Language protocols. (One of my favorite things. Learn more here.)  

Free Speech. Retailers who want to share additional information about a product would be prohibited from going beyond the Standard’s highly restrictive limits.

Massive loopholes. An estimated 70 percent of products currently in the marketplace may be exempt, even though these products are highly processed and known to contain GMO ingredients.

Like many other co-ops and food organizations across the country, our co-op has plenty of concerns about all this. Our issues are not necessarily with the idea of federally regulated GMO labeling, but with the way it is being implemented through a confusing Standard. Anything that restricts our ability to share information with consumers gets our attention.

So what can we all do? For now, stay informed. Media outlets that cover the food industry will no doubt be publishing updates in the months ahead, and our own Outreach and Education teams will be sharing details on our website and social media channels as we learn more.

Keep in mind that may change in 2022. At that point, by law, we may be far more restricted in what we are allowed to say.

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis

Ken Davis is a writer in the Co-op Outreach Department. Email him at kdavis@coopfoodstore.com.