There is another food label being introduced that concerned consumers will want to consider, but it will only be visible on food products imported from the United States. The USDA has introduced a new logo and label titled “Bioengineering or Derivative of Bioengineering”. The new label refers to food products that contain detectable traces of genetically modified or modified ingredients, commonly known as GMOs. It culminates a decades-long war in which left-wing environmental groups, organic industry lobby organizations and self-proclaimed consumer advocacy entities have fought to have food products labeled with an ominously GMO label. The issue had nothing to do with food safety but was instead part and parcel of campaigns to scare away donations from gullible consumers. Apparently, the agenda was to scare consumers into buying “non-GMO” organic food products. No doubt to their horror, the anti-GMO gang was shocked to see the letters GMO replaced with the word “Bioengineering”, which has a much softer connotation in its meaning. The new word is rather annoying to anti-GMO groups, as they have spent millions and decades promoting the term GMO as something sinister, even toxic. Apparently, the success was such that more than 50% of consumers consider the words GMO to be bad, even though most had no idea what the words or the process meant. As a result, it has become a useful derogatory word for alarmist groups, much like the words “tar sands” are used by extremist anti-energy lobby groups to instantly give gullible citizens a negative perception of the industry.
The new Bioengineered logo also looks friendlier with its green/yellow coloring and with a plant and the sun in the graphics. I suppose the anti-GMO strategists would have liked a more austere and menacing logo, similar to the one used to label irradiated foods in Canada and the United States. Knowledgeable readers may think that they have probably never seen a product labeled “irradiated food”. This is mainly because no processor or retailer wants to see a stark graphic label that implies the product is glowing with radiation – it’s a rather hard sell even though the product in most cases would be safer than non-food irradiated – but that’s another story. Extremist US lobby groups have already filed a lawsuit against the USDA, claiming the word Bioengineered is misleading. The absurdity of the lawsuit was that they wanted a label to include all detectable and undetectable traces of GMO ingredients – how one proves undetectable would be interesting. I suspect one of the reasons the USDA wants to use the new word is in anticipation of covering gene editing techniques like the CRISPR method, which some say is not true genetic engineering , others disagree.
Will we see the Canadian government adopt the word Bioengineered for foods containing GMO ingredients – I think not, first there would have to be a French equivalent on a Canadian label. This could make it bulky. I also suspect that Canadian officials considering such a label are far more politically correct and responsive to pressures from the green lobby group to maintain the fearmongering aspects of an austere graphic GMO label. The recent appointment of a Greenpeace environment minister would have a huge influence on officials sympathetic to green lobby causes like GMO labeling. Canadian officials will go through the usual mock theater of public consultation. After careful evaluation, they will come up with the logo and label they planned to release from the beginning. It’s a bit like the Canadian way of consulting governments. As noted, I don’t expect our feds to use the word bioengineering – it’s not scary enough. Without a doubt, the federal government is spending millions on image consultants and focus groups to develop a politically correct, Greenpeace-endorsed label to scare consumers away in both languages. I suspect it’s not even certain that the new US label will survive. It was, after all, developed under the former Trump regime, and it is clear that President Biden has a penchant for undoing or altering nearly every initiative supported by the former administration.
My view is that whether food products are labeled Bioengineered or GMOs, the problem has gone away for most consumers. Most foods are perfectly safe, whether labeled or not. Plus, so many products now contain traces of GMS ingredients that the label would be all over the place, and consumers wouldn’t see it – sometimes negative marketing doesn’t work anymore.
Will Verboven is a Calgary-based agricultural opinion writer and agricultural policy advisor. [email protected]