Many products labeled “Non-GMO” are genetically engineered
By Julie Fidler
The government isn’t particularly interested in making sure Americans know what they’re eating. It seems like knowing what is in the food should be a basic right, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, last week Congress passed a federal requirement for labeling products containing genetically modified ingredients that signifies a big win for food companies.
The bill will require labels to be retooled or updated to show whether any ingredients had their natural DNA altered, but it will be years before the new labels are phased in, and food companies won’t be required to list specific information on their products.
GMO labeling proponents had hoped the bill would be more like a state law in Vermont, which requires food companies and grocers selling prepared foods to explicitly label foods that contain GMO ingredients by January.
The more vague bill passed by Congress will supersede these stricter state laws. 
The government is only willing to go so far in its definition of genetically modified foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says removing DNA from a crop is not the same as adding genes from another organism. This means that corn injected with outside DNA is technically considered a GMO, but canola that can tolerate herbicide because scientists removed a gene is not.
This also means that products created through gene-editing are already on store shelves in the U.S., but because of the USDA loophole, consumers don’t realize it. In fact, this regulatory gap allows American consumers to be duped into purchasing gene-edited products that are actually labeled non-GMO.
Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow Chemical have all struck licensing deals with smaller companies for gene-editing technology. Last year, 8,000 acres of gene-edited canola were harvested by U.S. farmers, and the crops were processed into cooking oil marketed as non-GMO.
Carl Jorgenson, director of wellness strategy at Daymon Worldwide, a retail marketing firm, said:
“There’s a feeling among consumers that they want their food as close as possible to what nature intended. There’s an overall distrust of Big Food and Big Science.”
GMO opponents are often portrayed in the media and many in the scientific community as conspiracy theorists and science-deniers. In light of the USDA’s unwillingness to acknowledge that food products with deleted DNA are just as genetically modified as products injected with genes, it’s not hard to see why that overall distrust exists.
Regardless, an increasing number of Americans are avoiding GMO foods. Some 52% of respondents to a Mintel survey said they deliberately purchase non-GMO products. Many food companies are responding to this push for all-natural products, and nearly 17% of new food products introduced in the U.S. last year carried a non-GMO label, up from less than 3% in 2011. The issue of genetically modifying the food supply was named one of the top stories influencing behavior in Americans under 40 in 2015. 
But some of those labels are clearly deceptive, and even though last week Congress passed a fairly loose GMO-labeling bill, it won’t apply to gene-edited crops as regulations now stand.
It is also important to point out that under the bill passed last week by Congress, food companies that don’t want to reveal GMO ingredients on product labels can simply use a “QR code” that must be scanned using a smartphone or tablet. 
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