What Are GMOs? A Primer for FDA and USDA Labeling

With proposed new food labeling guidelines under public discussion, UConn's John Bovay clarifies what the term genetically modified organism really means. ()

This month, the United States Department of Agriculture proposed new guidelines for labeling foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, a step that has been highly anticipated since the law took effect in 2016.

In preparation for the guidelines, John Bovay, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, and colleagues launched the GMO Working Group at UConn to disseminate information about a variety of issues related to genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Bovay has been investigating how the legislation might be implemented, and the ways it could reverberate through the national economy.

Instead of the commonly used but somewhat stigmatized terms “GMO’’ and “genetically engineered,” the federal guidelines propose labels that say “bioengineered” or “BE.”

Food producers would be given a choice of three disclosure methods: spelling out the information, as in “contains a bioengineered food ingredient;” using a standard icon; or affixing a QR code that directs consumers to a website with more information. They will be required by federal law to use the labels starting in 2020.

The public has until July 3 to comment on the proposed guidelines.