choosing non-GMO Project Verified products in the grocery store

After a lengthy delay, the USDA published the final National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) in the Federal Register on December 21. This law, which you may have heard called the DARK Act, is the start of mandatory GMO labeling in the United States. It means that some—but not all—products containing GMOs will have to be labeled by 2022.

While the Non-GMO Project supports mandatory labeling, we are disappointed by the content of the final rule. It does not do enough to protect consumers and it does not offer American families the transparency they have been calling for.

Read the full law on the Federal Register

As you know, consumers have been demanding meaningful GMO labeling for more than 20 years. Fifty-four GMO labeling bills landed on ballots in 26 states, and consumers in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont successfully passed statewide labeling legislation. Unfortunately, the NBFDS took those hard-earned wins away from consumers by rolling back existing state laws and preventing any future state-level GMO labeling.

The Non-GMO Project was founded on the simple idea that everyone has the right to know what is in their food, and we are committed to helping make that right a reality for every shopper. The Project has always supported mandatory labeling legislation and even spearheaded efforts to help the USDA make the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard meaningful and intuitive for all consumers.

Consumers like you have been asking for transparency, campaigning for labeling, and voting for non-GMO options when you shop. Your hard work created the Non-GMO Project and helped bring more than 57,000 Verified non-GMO choices to consumers across North America. The USDA’s final rule is not good enough and we think you deserve better—so let’s continue to stand together in support of meaningful GMO labeling and Verified non-GMO choices.

What is in this new GMO labeling law?

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law requires some products that contain GMOs to bear a GMO disclosure. Some food products will start to include a disclosure in 2020, but food producers are not required to be in full compliance until 2022.

Unfortunately, this law:

  • Exempts most GMO foods that have been processed and refined, which represent the majority of GMO foods. A product can have many different highly refined GMO ingredients and still not be labeled under this law.
  • Largely exempts GMO ingredients developed through techniques such as CRISPR or RNAi because many will not contain detectable GMO DNA.
  • Mandates the use of the new term bioengineered instead of the familiar “GMO” in disclosures. If you’ve never heard of “bioengineered” food, you are not alone!
  • Allows an unreasonably high five percent per ingredient threshold for GMO contamination. For context, the European Union uses a 0.9 percent threshold for most foods—so does the Non-GMO Project.
  • Falls behind the rapid introduction of new GMOs by only updating its list of GMO foods once per year.
  • Fails to include any technical requirements to ensure that GMO testing is meaningful (e.g., testing method, accreditation of labs, sampling plan requirements.)
  • Has no penalty at all for failing to comply with the law. This is in stark contrast to the USDA’s National Organic Program, which levies fines of up to $11,000 per violation.

Some GMO foods will be labeled “bioengineered” or “BE”

It is important to understand that GMO foods won’t say they contain GMOs, they will say they are “bioengineered.” While 97 percent of consumers are familiar with the term GMO, most people do not understand what bioengineered food means. Typically used only as a medical term, “bioengineered” is not even included in the USDA’s Agricultural Biotechnology Glossary, highlighting the fact that it was invented for this purpose. Using intentionally confusing terminology misleads consumers and keeps them in the dark.

Bioengineered disclosure labels

These symbols (and other types of disclosures) will begin to appear on packages in 2020 to indicate the presence of GMOs in food.


It is clear that using “bioengineered” instead of “GMO” or “genetically engineered” is an attempt to distance labeled products from the overwhelming consumer rejection of GMO foods. This is unacceptable and the Non-GMO Project feels it shows a great disregard for the American public. Unfortunately, the labeling confusion does not end there. The NBFDS does not even require products that need a BE disclosure to have a plain-text label. Consumers will need to scan QR codes, visit websites, send text messages, or make telephone calls while shopping in order to find out if some of their food contains GMOs.

The good news in the face of this disappointing law is that the Non-GMO Project’s mission is unchanged. We are still committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. A product without a bioengineered disclosure could still contain GMOs, but the Non-GMO Project Verified mark always means a product is compliant with North America’s most trusted and most rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance. You have the right to know what is in your food—without needing to memorize regulatory loopholes or jump through hoops in the grocery store.

Do you have questions about the NBFDS? Post them in the comments below or contact info@nongmoproject.org.

Read part two of this blog

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8 Comments

Judith Dunk

Hello, thank you for taking the time to read my questions and concerns. How do the new laws affect foods that are labeled “USDA Organic” (United States Department of Agriculture, Organic)? I often select foods that have both the “NON-GMO Project Verified” label as well as the “USDA Organic” label to ensure that I’m getting the highest quality food that is free of not only genetically modified organisms but also harmful chemicals. How reliable is the USDA Organic label at present with the new laws passed? Does the USDA Organic label still guarantee that foods marked with this label are actually Non-GMO or not bioengineered? Thank you.

Reply
Alli Willis

Hi Judith,

Products that are USDA Organic will be exempt under this law. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) oversees both the National Organic Program and this new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. The National Organic Program does not permit GMOs, so the AMS will assume that products that qualify for that label do not need a “bioengineered food” disclosure.

As far as how reliable the USDA Organic label is—that’s for you to decide. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they are not using GMOs. The requirements of the National Organic Program help to prevent GMO contamination of organic foods through a process-based approach. The Non-GMO Project builds upon these measures by ensuring that all major GMO risk ingredients are tested prior to use in a Verified product, as we believe that ongoing testing is critical to identifying and eliminating GMO contamination.

Many of us here at the Non-GMO Project choose to avoid GMOs and chemicals, so for many of us the gold standard is looking for products that are both Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Organic.

Reply
Pat

Given government triviality tolerance on this issue means over time, non-NGO battle, a.k.a. Bio-engineering in food, must be a losing battle. Out of sight, out of mind, like so many other instances of integrity we take for granted. Objective should be effects, and impact investigation instead.

Reply
Doris Tonseth

Wow, what the big businesses can get away with. Talk about “enemies of the people”. These are monsters under the disguise of USDA supposing to keep our food supplies safe, what a laugh. We cannot put down our guard and I will continue to support organic and non-gmo verified as long as I live. Thanks for all you guys do.

Reply
Very concerned American citizen.

the NBFDS took those hard-earned wins away from consumers by rolling back existing state laws and preventing any future state-level GMO labeling. ” This is a gag order, and an over-reach of Federal control over the States. The tenth amendment gives the States solidarity, independent in their laws and more powerful than the Federal government, not the other way around. Further, it is not any accident at all, that our founding fathers penned free speech right into the very First amendment of the US Constitution. Please think about it: It appears in that position, for deeply important reason. Our money-greedy powers that be, are usurping the Constitution based on self-gain interests. The concerns are no longer *solely* about very dire health impacts with glyphosate/GMOs (planetary, human, animal, insect, earthworms, soil microbes) all alike, but about dictatorship, sum total. This is not an acceptable state of affairs. We pay for the upholding, protecting and defending of the US Constitution, with our tax dollars. We the People, peaceably but clearly, expect our politicians to protect the Constitution. Further, our founding fathers never penned into law, a government of/by/for the Corporations. It penned into law, as the fundament of freedom, a government of/by/for the people. Apparently our soldiers are fighting and many have died in vain?

Reply
Mike

As a US Marine combat vet, I agree with you. Globalist $$$$$$ wars and screw Americans. This Country needs a coup, new civilian elections, and term limits.

Reply
Mike

The states like Vermont were not forced to quit their private labeling , but were bought out, by the feds, who were bought out by Monsanto. People be dammed. The USA alphabet agencies are fast becoming the greatest threat to the people. Politicians with deep pockets could care less about you or me. They buy the cream of the crop in DC. They all are disgusting.

Reply
Joel Walbert

The government does not care about us one bit, and in fact want us sick, so this should surprise nobody.

Reply

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