Vermont, grocery industry agree to dismiss GMO lawsuit

In this 2016 photo, a disclosure statement is displayed on a package of Peanut M&M’s candy in Montpelier, Vt., saying they are “Partially produced with genetic engineering.” A lawsuit between Vermont and grocery manufacturers was dropped because the state law was pre-empted by a new federal label law that has sparked a new debate among critics.

While farm groups are pleased with USDA’s new disclosure standard for bioengineered foods, others are not.

Some public interest and environmental advocacy groups contend the standard is deceptive and doesn’t go far enough to identify genetically modified foods and inform consumers.

They take issue with the term “bioengineered,” the permitted methods of disclosure and the omission of foods they say should be labeled as genetically modified.

“This deceptive rule will keep people in the dark about what they’re eating and feeding their families,” Wenonah Hauter, director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.

“It is meant to confuse consumers, not inform them. This deception is a tool being utilized to maximize corporate profits, plain and simple, she said.

The use of “bioengineered,” rather than GMOs, is a deceptive strategy because consumers don’t know what that means. In addition, the use of digital codes and other technology makes GMO disclosure more difficult for consumers, and the definitions of what triggers labeling are far too limited, she said.

Options for disclosure include text, symbol, electronic or digital link, text message and a phone number or web address where consumers can access information.

The standard does not apply to foods such as meat, milk and eggs derived from animals fed forage or grain developed through biotechnology. It also does not apply to highly refined products such as sugar or oil derived from biotech crops.

The Environmental Working Group said the disclosure rule fails to meet the intent of Congress to create a mandatory disclosure standard that includes all genetically engineered foods and to use terms consumers understand.

It also fails to address the needs of consumers who don’t have expensive phones or who live in rural places with poor cell service, EWG said.

“The Trump administration has yet again put the interests of pesticide and biotech companies ahead of the interests of ordinary Americans,” Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement.

In addition to using the unfamiliar “bioengineered” term, allowing the use of barcodes that require a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection and exempting refined products, the threshold for the unintended presence of genetically engineered ingredients is far too high, the Center for Food Safety contends.

At 5 percent, that threshold is more than five times the European Union’s 0.9 percent standard. The majority of genetically engineered foods would not be labeled as a result of the exemption for highly refined products and the 5 percent threshold, CFS said.

“The USDA has betrayed the public trust by denying Americans the right to know how their food is produced,” Andrew Kimball, CFS executive director said.

“Instead of providing clarity and transparency, they have created large-scale confusion and uncertainty for consumers, food producers and retailers,” he said.

The new regulations will almost certainly lead to litigation, more state legislation and efforts to amend federal law, George Kimbrell, CFS legal director, said.

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