USDA lays out the rules for labeling for genetically modified foods

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Delegate Vani Hari holds signs that say ‘Label GMOs’ during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As early as Jan. 2020, consumers around the U.S. will see labels on food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

The USDA released Wednesday the first national disclosure requirements for foods that have been altered in a way that doesn’t occur naturally.

The fight over whether or not to label foods with genetically modified ingredients, also called genetically engineered foods and GMOs, has raged for years. Advocates say consumers should know how their food is made, and opponents worry consumers will interpret labels on bioengineered foods as a warning on foods many agree are safe.

The guidelines, which use the term “bioengineered” instead of the more commonly-used “genetically modified,” allow disclosure of bioengineered ingredients in one of three formats: text, a symbol or a digital link printed on packaging.

Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group, said national guidelines will help food manufacturers make choices about whether or not they want to keep genetically modified ingredients in their products by defining what these organisms are. Having guidelines are helpful, he said because without them manufacturers are “chasing a moving target.”

The USDA created the guidelines after Congress passed a law in 2016 to include a disclosure of bioengineered food in the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929. The mandatory compliance date is Jan. 1, 2022.

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