Though the U.S. is poised to pass a law that would require labeling of GMO food products, that law makes no mention of "gene-edited" crops. According to some reports, this is exactly how big companies like Monsanto plan to skirt the law.
Bloomberg reports "industry giants like Monsanto Co., DuPont and Dow Chemical Co. have stepped through the regulatory void" by striking "licensing deals with smaller companies for gene-editing technology."
GMOs are genetically modified organisms — that is, plants or animals that have had their genes artificially altered. Gene editing, on the other hand, is a type of genetic engineering through which DNA is inserted, deleted or replaced in the genome of an organism using engineered nucleases. It’s proved an invaluable tool in the study of disease, but it’s popular in agriculture, too — altering genes can, for instance, create traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance.
For example, according to the report, while "corn injected with outside DNA is classified a genetically modified organism ... canola that can tolerate herbicide because scientists removed a gene is not."
But crops whose genes have been "edited" wouldn’t be affected by the new GMO-labeling law, which comes after years of debate regarding the science, and supposed effects, of GMOs. The legislation been lauded by some (including many in the agriculture industry) but the bill doesn’t actually aim to mandate the use of a GMO label on food packaging. Instead, companies can disclose the use of GMOs via a QR code, a 1-800 number, or soon-to-be-approved symbol by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As it is currently written, gene-editing would not fall under the bill’s current definition of "bio-engineering." In other words, crops or packaged foods that include a gene-edited ingredient would require no label at all.
As science journal Nature points out, a gene-edited mushroom (bred to resist browning) already sidestepped the USDA’s regulatory system earlier this year, and can now "be cultivated and sold without passing through the agency's regulatory process."
Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America (a group that has been vocally-opposed to the proposed federal GMO-labeling law), spoked out against gene-editing in a statement released Monday: "If regulators are going to allow patenting of life, and therefore high technology fees and higher food prices, then consumers have the right to know and choose whether or not to purchase or eat gene-edited food. Any attempt to hide this technology is fear based, and for good reason. No one really knows the impact on generations of humans or animals eating genetically edited food."
A growing number of American consumers have expressed their distrust with foods containing genetically modified organisms, despite a growing number of studies that claim GMOs have no negative impact on human health.
According to recent research by Packaged Facts, more than half of American adults (56 percent) actively seek out nutritional information and guidelines on food labels. In a press release, Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle suggested those numbers are proof that transparency is growing increasingly important. "Imaginative design and attractive looks can dazzle the eye, but it’s the words on a product that make the true difference," he said. "Information matters, ingredients matter, and most of all transparency matters."