Late on Friday afternoon, May 18, 2020, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced a significant change in how it regulates genetically modified organisms and genetic engineering, even as dozens of new, unregulated, untested and unlabeled GMOs are entering the food supply.
APHIS’s framework has always been a very narrow scope of regulation on GMOs. It focused on Agrobacterium, a plant pest that has been used to create GMOs. APHIS has decided this regulatory tool and the public review of GMOs that it provided is too burdensome for the biotech companies that want more genetically engineered ingredients to enter the food supply. Many consumers are surprised to learn that the US has never had a regulatory process to evaluate the human health and safety of GMOs; this 30-year-old rule was one of the only tools the public had to evaluate and regulate GE crops for negative impacts.
Unfortunately this decision signals a clear, strategic shift even further away from transparency in the food system. Consumers overwhelmingly want to know what’s in their food and how it is made. What’s more, there is no mechanism today to evaluate, regulate or label hundreds of new GMOs that use new techniques. The Non-GMO Project is currently monitoring 375 startup biotech companies, a number that has increased 220 percent in the past three years. These companies are using new genetic engineering methods to create unnatural GMO products that are unregulated and unlabeled. Meanwhile, old GMOs are still a huge problem — still grown on 90 percent of arable farmland in the US.
USDA Organic Certified and Non-GMO Project Verified have been tremendous success stories, together amounting to more than $50 billion in sales in the US. This growth has happened precisely because consumers show a strong preference for agriculture done in a more responsible and sustainable way. The public comment period for this revision in policy resulted in more than 6,000 comments from the public and all but 25 were strongly against this deregulation. This regulatory change clearly does not honor public opinion. But thousands of farmers, food companies, and grocery stores do.
We know that consumers will continue to vote with their dollars for Non-GMO Project Verified groceries. People who want a better, more natural food system can still trust and depend on the Non-GMO Project. We continue to monitor these developments. We persist in testing products for GMOs, as we have done for the past 13 years, regularly updating our Standard to evaluate new ingredients, new products and new food companies, educating people and giving shoppers the option to avoid all GMOs — by simply looking for the Butterfly on their favorite products.