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Media Statement | Organic Trade Association deeply disappointed in USDA final GMO labeling rule

Gwendolyn Wyard
(503) 798-3294
Washington , DC
December 20, 2018
) — 

The Organic Trade Association is deeply disappointed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final GMO labeling rule and calls on companies to voluntarily act on their own to provide full disclosures on their food products about GMO content.

Consumers have the right to know how their food was grown and processed, and the Organic Trade Association supports transparency in labeling, including mandatory labeling of all genetically modified foods. USDA’s final GMO labeling regulation does not satisfy consumers' right to know if a food is genetically modified. USDA has not delivered a meaningful rule that is accessible to the American public.

Fortunately, the regulation creates an exception for organic products, as it should, so organic companies are not burdened with compliance with the regulation. The final GMO labeling rule allows certified organic products to use absence claims such as "not genetically engineered" and "non-GMO." Organic prohibits GMO inputs so you can look for the USDA organic label if you want to avoid GMOs.

This USDA regulation misses the mark in giving consumers the information they need to know about their foods. Therefore, the Organic Trade Association is urging companies to voluntarily operate with a "consumer first" mindset and to voluntarily label all products and/or ingredients that are not organic and produced through genetic engineering and to do so using on-pack (label) text disclosure with plain English terms that consumers are familiar with. All food that is genetically engineered should be labeled, regardless of whether the GMO material is detectable, and disclosure statements should be made through labels with clear understandable terms. OTA identifies this as the best practice in GMO labeling.

Specifically, this final rule falls short of its purpose to fully inform consumers about GMO content in their food in the following ways:

  • The regulation prohibits the use of clear terms that the public recognizes and understands (i.e., genetically engineered, genetically modified, GMO). Instead, it allows only for the term "bioengineered." This term is unfamiliar to consumers and will have the effect of confusing shoppers and certainly not add the transparency that consumers want.
  • It exempts refined ingredients and products with undetectable GMO content even if they are derived from GMOs.
  • It exempts new GM food produced with gene editing techniques such as CRISPR and RNAi in violation of commonly accepted definitions.
  • It allows for the option of digital/electronic disclosures rather than requiring on-pack plain English text disclosure.
  • With the exception of organic products, it does not clearly state that products exempt from mandatory disclosure must not by default qualify for absence claims (i.e. non-GMO).
  • The stylized GMO symbol with a four-pointed starburst does not reflect a neutral symbol as Congress intended and is misleading. It could convey that GM foods are safer than non-GM foods, which is prohibited by the statute.
  • The final rule includes a threshold (allowance for trace amounts of GMOs) that is inconsistent with accepted private standards, most of our major global trading partners and unacceptable to consumers.



Gwendolyn Wyard

Vice President, Regulatory and Technical Affairs

(503) 798-3294