US rules are "a model of confusion"
Canadian public interest and environmental groups are expressing concerns about inadequate and confusing new US government rules to label some genetically modified foods, and are calling on the federal government to reject this new US example and adopt full, transparent mandatory labelling instead.
“We urge our government to establish mandatory GM food labelling without using this confusing US example as a model,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). “We completely reject these rules as an example for Canada.”
The new “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard” was officially published by the US Department of Agriculture to implement the “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law” passed in 2016, that blocked Vermont’s mandatory labelling law for genetically engineered foods – which had clearer and more complete requirements.
“Labelling should provide information but these rules will add confusion instead of clarity,” said Sharratt.
The US “disclosure” standard has many critical gaps and problems, including that it:
* Uses the unfamiliar and poorly defined term “bioengineered” instead of the commonly used and understood term “genetically modified” (“GM”) or “genetically engineered” (“GE”);
* Does not label foods if the modified genetic material cannot be detected, therefore excluding highly processed foods such as sugar from GM sugar beet and oils from GM corn and GM canola;
* Does not require on-package text labels but instead allows companies to opt for an electronic or digital link accompanied by a telephone number “for more food information”;
* Provides the option of using a specific graphic symbol that incorporates the word “bioengineered”, with an image that is not neutral but is suggestive of a bucolic country scene;
* Has a high threshold to require disclosure only when there is more than 5% GM content versus the 0.9% threshold used in the European Union, for example.
“The US rules are a model of confusion,” said Rachel Parent, founder of Kids Right to Know. “Canadians need clear, on-label information about what’s in the food we buy. We have the right to know what we’re eating.”
The federal government has a mandate to ensure that all labelling is “truthful and not misleading”.
“Consumers are asking for clear mandatory labelling but these rules obscure rather than disclose GM foods on grocery store shelves,” said Maureen Kirkpatrick of The Big Carrot Natural Food Market in Toronto, “There is no transparency in this U.S. action, only more confusion.”
All polls in Canada, since 1994, have shown that over 80% of Canadians want mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.
“We urge Canada to follow the long-established clear labelling example set by European and other countries. The U.S. is out of step with the rest of the world on this issue,” said Leo Broderick, Chairperson of The Council of Canadians.
Sixty-four countries around the world have some form of mandatory GM food labelling.
A Private Members Bill for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods was voted down in the House of Commons in May 2017.