Policy Report: Fighting for true GE transparency

By Aimee Simpson

This article was originally published in November 2020

Led by the legal team at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), PCC joined other plaintiffs this past summer in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its rule on genetically engineered (GE) food labeling, known as the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS).

PCC has voiced its disappointment in the rule since its release at the end of 2018 and has been forced to roll back its own GMO labeling program to comply with the rule and avoid consumer confusion. Some of the primary issues with the rule include its mandate to use the term “bioengineered” (instead of more commonly recognized terms of GE and GMO), allowance of QR codes and text messages as acceptable forms of labeling, exemption of highly processed GE foods and ingredients as “undetectable,” and prohibition against labeling certain categories of foods, such as meat from animals that were fed GE grain.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, alleges that these four components of the rule constitute arbitrary and capricious rulemaking and a violation of the First Amendment rights of retailers and food manufacturers to provide truthful information to their consumers. The lawsuit also takes aim at the preemption of states issuing GE seed labeling requirements. Ultimately, plaintiffs hope to have the regulations declared as unlawful and force the USDA to better align the regulations with consumer expectations and legal requirements.

Food manufacturers, retailers and other regulated entities are not mandated to comply with the standard until January 2022, and, as with any legal proceeding, definitive rulings on the claims will take some time and may not occur until after the compliance date. There is also the potential for the lawsuit to pause the standard’s implementation until the legal issues are settled.

In the interim, look for PCC Advocates emails for more real-time updates on the lawsuit’s progress (you can sign up here). Check out the CFS website to read the complaint and receive updates: (Center for Food Safety).

Also in this issue