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Bioengineered vs Non-GMO: What You Need to Know

On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published its final rule implementing the NBFDS (National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law). Ultimately, for the first time on the federal level, the NBFDS will require manufacturers, importers, and certain retailers to disclose the presence of bioengineered food or food that contains bioengineered food ingredients on products labeled for U.S. retail sale.

The regulations included a list of bioengineered foods for which entities must maintain records. These regulations became effective in February 2019 with mandatory compliance by January 1, 2022.

Sugar beets are on the list, so why are they exempt from BE labeling?

In the US, the term GMO is identified closely with glyphosates, as the vast majority of sugar beets (not cane), soy and corn have been genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide. Individuals who have proven health consequences due to this exposure have been so successful in court that Bayer (who purchased Monsanto), agreed to pay $10 billion to settle claims.

This association has led to many food companies to prefer the use of cane sugar instead of beet sugar in their products.

In Dec 2018, the USDA handed a victory to the US Sugar Beet growers when it determined that only foods containing detectable genetic material should be considered as bioengineered or genetically modified (GMO).

The growers subsequently demonstrated the absence of modified genetic material making refined sugar derived from GMO sugar beets exempt from BE labeling.

What is the status of GMO Cane Sugar?

A couple of years ago, the US government was considering adding GMO cane on the list of BE products due to the approval of insect resistant sugar cane in Brazil. The commentary period ended in 2018, but to date, there has been no ruling. Even if added, GMO cane would be expected to receive the same exemption as beet sugar.

But What About Transparency in Our Supply Chain? NBFDS Under Attack

Siince the NBFDS final rule was published, a coalition of nonprofit organizations and food retailers filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California challenging key aspects of the NBFDS final rule.

The plaintiffs allege that around 70% of foods using BE ingredients are highly processed foods that do not need to bear a BE disclosure under the final rule, making the NBFDS rule a toothless tiger. They particularly dislike the ruling that if genetic material is not detectable, no BE labeling is required.

If the consumer expected the NBFDS to inform them about what foods contained Round-Up resistant ingredients, they were very disappointed. On-going litigation argues that the intent of the law to inform the consumer about the food we eat was subverted in its final form.

Non-GMO Project Offers Transparency

In spite of the failure of the new BE labeling rules, major retailers appreciate that they must offer options to their consumers who continue to care more about how their food is grown. Claims on private labels brands at Costco, Kroger, Whole Foods and Safeway are increasing. To assure the validity of non-GMO claims on packages, most major US retailers require a third-party verification. Sugaright offers Non-GMO Project Verified Cane Sugar in support of transparency in labeling.

Please contact us if you want to know more about our commitment to assuring a safe and transparent food supply.


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