January 1st ushered in a lot of things for us--one of which directly affects genetically modified foods and the labels that go with them. Foods previously labeled as GMO (genetically modified organisms) or GE (genetically engineered) will now be labeled as 'Bioengineered' or have a QR code or phone number for you to call and get more information online.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the goal was originally to get rid of different labels and make identifying foods that have been modified easier. What actually is happening, however, is more work on consumers' part to do the homework and find out just what the labels mean and what went into the creation of the foods.

The changes are part of the USDA's new rules that take labeling out of states' hands and put a uniform, national standard on foods that are modified. The USDA says it's to help consumers.

But, to consumers who want to avoid these foods, it's going to possibly be more work to identify them, as some will simply have a code to scan or a website to go to. Who has time to figure that out when in the grocery store? More, food safety advocates say that the term 'bioengineered' is one many are not familiar with, and just being used because GMO had a negative connotation and food producers wanted to eliminate that.

Some safety groups also believe the new rules don't go far enough and many, if not the majority of genetically modified foods will be unlabeled. More, it's discriminatory in that many Americans don't have access to smart phones or even cellular service and to rely on that for the dissemination of information about food is just unfair.

The rules will continue to allow USDA Organic and NON-GMO Project Verified, however, so that can be something that consumers will want to look for if looking for non-GMO foods. You may see 'Contains bioengineered food ingredients' which means that at least one ingredient in the food has DNA from a new gene that was inserted to give a useful trait.​
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Or you may see the round, green label that says "Bioengineered" or "Derived from bioengineering", but you may just see a phone number or QR code if you want more information. The leack of any of that does not mean it's not GMO, but that maybe the genetic material is not detectable.

With the new rule,if one or more of the food's ingredients come from a modified plant but the ingredients themselves don't have DNA from that plant, they'll maybe say "Derived from bioengineering"--the caveat is that it is VOLUNTARY for food processors to say so. That means processed foods that are SO highly processed that no DNA actually remains anymore (think sodas, candies, cooking oils) may NOT have to be labeled.

Of course, it's not the USDA if there's no 'threshold' given for 'unintended' presence, so if something is made with less than 5% of the ingredient 'unintentionally bioengineered', it doesn't have to be disclosed either. In the European Union, this threshold is .9%, about 5 times lower.

So, you may not know if it's not present OR if the company just chose not to share. Which means that it's even MORE important you know your companies and ask questions.

Products that list meat, eggs or poultry as their first ingredient (or second after water, stock or broth) don't have to disclose anything either. So many frozen prepared foods may have modified ingredients but don't have to disclose that info.

There are no in-store checks of foods, and now an already overburdened consumer base is responsible for doing even MORE investigation of labels.

Great. Because we had extra time we were all looking to fill....