Biotech-Label Rule Begs Question: How Much GMO Makes a GMO Food?

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is leaving itself some wiggle room for how it defines exactly what a genetically modified food is as it seeks comments on its proposed rule for bioengineered food labels.

Guidelines for GMO labeling -- an issue that sparked state ballot initiatives and a controversial law in Vermont before Congress stepped in with a federal law in 2016 -- are due in July. A draft proposal to be published in Friday’s Federal Register is requiring disclosure on bioengineered foods on packages in places where they "could be found without much effort." It’s also requiring GMO identification on foods that mainly consist of crops that are predominantly planted in biotech varieties in the U.S., including canola, field corn, soybeans and sugar beets.

But the USDA is leaving some options open. For example, it’s considering whether highly processed foods that may have lost their GMO content, such as high-fructose corn syrup, should be exempt. The agency is also deciding how much GMO a food must contain before it requires labeling, whether it should be more than 0.9 percent or 5 percent of the product’s weight.

And the labeling icon itself is open for debate: The USDA is proposing a seal that says BE (for bio-engineered), but remains open as to whether the icon should look like a leaf in a field, a sunburst or a smiley face surrounded by bars. Comments are due by July 3.

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