Groups Fight USDA on GE Foods Labels

Coalition Asks Court to Review USDA Labels for Bioengineered Foods

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The Center for Food Safety wants USDA to use the terms "GE" and "GMO" on food labels and is appealing a court ruling that allowed the agency to use the term "bioengineered" instead. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- After a federal court ruled USDA is allowed to use the term "bioengineered" instead of "GMO" or "GE" on food labels for products that contain ingredients from genetically engineered crops, a coalition of food safety, labeling and grocery retailers asked a federal appeals court to review the ruling.

The group led by the Center for Food Safety filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco last week, asking the court to review a lower court's ruling.

CFS originally filed a lawsuit in July 2020, challenging USDA's 2018 final rules for biotech labeling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Those labeling rules were developed in response to a 2016 federal law that for the first time required GE foods to be labeled.

Congress passed the law after Vermont, Connecticut and Maine passed labeling laws, and other states were planning to do the same. The federal law required food manufacturers to begin labeling in January 2022.

The CFS filed its appeal out of concern the USDA's current approach would allow at least some GE products to go unlabeled.

The district court ruled unlawful USDA's decision to allow such foods to be labeled with a "QR" code.

The groups' appeal, however, is focused on the lower court's ruling that lets stand UDSA's use of "bioengineered" and disallows terms such as "GE" or "GMO."

In addition, the Center for Food Safety said it filed the appeal because USDA will be allowed to exclude "highly refined" products including oils and some processed foods from the labeling requirements unless the material is detectible.

Groups joining CFS on the appeal include Natural Grocers; Puget Consumers Co-op; Good Earth Natural Foods; Citizens for GMO Labeling; Labels GMOs; Rural Vermont; and the National Organic Coalition.

"By allowing USDA to exclude highly refined foods from the mandatory scope of disclosure, the lower court's ruling allows food manufacturers to continue concealing the truth from consumers about how their foods are produced," said Meredith Stevenson, staff attorney at CFS and counsel for appellants.

"Most consumers want to know if their foods are produced using GMOs, based on reasons including health and the impact of GMOs on soils and the environment."

The rule that took effect in January 2022, lists specific bioengineered foods that are affected, including alfalfa, trademarked Arctic apples, canola, corn, cotton, specific varieties of eggplant, certain varieties of papaya, (pink flesh) pineapple, potatoes, AquAdvantage salmon, soybeans, summer squash and sugar beets.

A label would use "bioengineered foods" for a raw commodity or processed food made up of only bioengineered ingredients. A multi-food product that contains one or more bioengineered ingredients would use "contains a bioengineered food ingredient." A label requires placing "contains a bioengineered ingredient" on an area of the label with material information about the product and large enough to be seen.

The Center for Food Safety said in its original lawsuit that USDA essentially narrowed the scope of which foods should be labeled, leaving processed foods untouched.

"The vast majority of GE foods are not whole foods but rather highly processed foods with GE ingredients like sodas and oils, which by some estimates account for over 70% of all GE foods," the lawsuit said.

"The act provided broad scope to USDA to cover all GE foods, and the legislative history shows that USDA and Congress made assurances that the majority of GE foods -- those highly refined GE foods -- would be covered."

The lawsuit said manufacturers and retailers have a "fundamental First Amendment right" to provide "truthful, commercial information" to consumers, and "consumers have a right to receive it."

Read more on DTN:

"USDA Bioengineered Label Law Challenged,"…

"GMO Labeling: The Saga Continues,"…

"Confusion, Lawsuits to Reign When USDA Enforces Biotech Labels,"…

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Todd Neeley

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