Biotechnology (or Biotech) has evolved to include an array of complicated processes that utilize the natural systems found in living things. The resulting technologies are then applied to a wide range of purposes, including for the environment and health care as well as food production and food safety. For example, biotech tools called Marker Assisted Selection can provide the DNA sequence of specific traits in animals or crops without changing their DNA. Biotechnology has supported the creation of non-soil (hydroponic) methods to grow vegetables. However some have used the word “Biotech” interchangeably with “GMO”, “Genetically Engineered” and “Bioengineered” to mean seeds or animals that have been changed to include DNA from another species.
To further confuse things, various organizations have created their own standards for what qualifies as GMO or for non-GMO. The criteria are varied and sometimes self-serving for the locality or industry involved. That’s why, in 2016, Congress passed a law requiring a uniform nation-wide standard for disclosure (labeling) of “Bioengineered” foods. We’ve created the following guidance to help food retailers better respond as customers ask questions about product labels or see news reports on the topic.
A food labeling claim used voluntarily on any food or dietary supplement that does not contain DNA from another species. However, at least one ingredient in the product was made through bioengineering. Examples include dairy products from cattle treated with a bioengineered hormone (rBST) to enhance milk production or meats from animals that were fed bioengineered crops like corn, soybeans or alfalfa. This claim could also be used on products that are so highly refined that no DNA is present. Examples could include refined corn, soybean and canola oils.
A voluntary labeling claim promoted by a group of food companies in 2009 when they formed the Non-GMO Project Verified. Requires a paper trail of affidavits to determine that ingredients in food products have not in any way been bioengineered or fed/treated with bioengineered substances. The absence of bioengineered disclosure does not mean that a product can be labeled as non-GMO. That’s because bioengineered disclosure is only required when DNA from another species is present. Many non-GMO ingredients contain no measurable DNA even though they were made from or fed bioengineered crops.
Does not allow several production methods common to modern agriculture. Organic products cannot be bioengineered, irradiated or be produced with antibiotics or certain pesticides. Nor can animals be fed bioengineered crops or be treated with medications produced through bioengineering. Other biotech methods, such as Mutagenesis, Marker Assisted Selection, Gene Editing, Hydroponics, Polyploidy and Protoplast Fusion have not yet been excluded from Certified Organic, however they are current topics of debate among organic stakeholders.
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