New GMO Labeling Rules Spark Debate

The food industry is grappling with questions on how to comply with the new labeling rules for genetically modified foods, experts said.

The new rules are Congress’s answer to confusion created by states’ varying legislation on genetically modified organisms. The new mandatory standard pre-empts state laws and creates a uniform national standard, Food Safety Magazine reported.

The new rules under the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service mandated a January 1, 2022 compliance with the new designation of “BE” (bioengineered), which replaces the term “GMO” for foods that have been genetically modified.

A bioengineered animal or plant is one that has had DNA from a new gene incorporated into it to provide it with a useful property, such as enhanced nutritional value or resistance to disease. Currently, the only bioengineered foods are some apples, canola, corn, eggplants, papayas, pineapples, potatoes and salmon.

Cara Harbstreet, a dietician and founder of Street Smart Nutrition, told The Food Institute “The terms “GMO” and “GE” (genetically engineered) were being used more consistently even without a standardized definition; initiating another change entails a process of relearning. This time around, I hope clearer communication about what constitutes ‘bioengineered food’ will help overall understanding. …”


The labeling changes may be made in several ways: Packaging may feature a round green label that says “bioengineered” or “derived from bioengineering,” or it may state “contains a bioengineered ingredient,” or it may provide a phone number to call or text for further information, or it may give a QR code to access online disclosure.

But the rules give rise to many loopholes and issues, ranging from protests of discrimination against the more than 100 million American consumers lacking the technology to use QR codes, to exactly what factors render a product “bioengineered,” the Washington Post reported.

Some experts say the change is an attempt to dispel the pejorative connotation of the designation “GMO.”

“GMOs are now gone and the label for genetically modified foods is now ‘bioengineered,’ whatever that means. It sounds much less threatening. It’s adorable. It has a bucolic farm scene on it, so it’s not only bioengineered, it’s your fantasy of rural America,” according to Marion Nestle, a semi-retired professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, per


Harbstreet is concerned the changes amount to shifting sands that will affect consumers’ perception of the new terms and even make things unclear.

Non-compliance consequences under the new standard also seem vague, experts say. The USDA will respond to complaints, but there will be no in-store spot checks of food products. Those who suspect violations can file a written complaint with the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service website.

“The already overburdened consumer will have to spend four times as much time in the supermarket reading labels. And now they’ll have to be USDA citizen investigators to make sure this law has some consequences.” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, the Post reported.

The USDA’s enforcement authority is limited to investigations of allegedly noncompliant entities and publicizing results of investigations. The USDA cannot recall products or issue money damages for violations, but there is litigation risk from consumers and competitors.


The supply-chain issues of the ongoing pandemic also factor into the matter, but experts differ on whether for good or ill.

The Post reported that trade groups for food companies and manufacturers decry instituting such a change during the pandemic and its attendant supply-chain debacle; the move unduly burdens an industry already suffering. On the other hand, the timing may be useful for preparing companies’ compliance infrastructure.