On January 1, 2022, the bioengineered (BE) food labeling law came into full effect. This policy makes the United States the 65th country with a mandatory GMO labeling policy.
Nations that enact clear and meaningful GMO labeling are responding to overwhelming public desire for it. In poll after poll, shoppers demand clear and consistent labeling. Research shows that the majority of people across Australia, Canada, Europe and the US want GMOs to be labeled.
However, not all labeling programs meet the public's needs. The law's scope, the terms used to identify products made with GMOs, and even the label's design can all impact its efficacy.
What makes (or breaks) a GMO labeling program, and where can the strongest (and weakest) labels be found?
No labeling in Canada
Canada grows GMOs on an estimated 26.9 million acres each year. At the same time, labs produce genetically engineered microbes and genetically modified salmon are grown in fish farms.
That adds up to a lot of GMOs — and none of them are labeled in the store.
The lack of labeling is controversial. For example, in 2016, Canada became the first country to approve genetically modified AquaAdvantage salmon for human consumption. Within a year, an estimated five tons of unlabeled "frankenfish" had been unwittingly consumed by Canadians, despite a clear majority favoring mandatory labels.
Canada is not the only nation to leave shoppers in the dark. There are many other countries without any labeling requirement for GMOs.
"G-M-O-s in the U-S-A"
The U.S. is by far the largest producer in the world of GMOs. Of all the agricultural land in the world dedicated to genetically modified crops, 37.6% of it is in the States. And until relatively recently, there were no mandatory labeling laws.
The labeling movement started at the state level, and by 2015 at least 18 individual states had taken steps toward labeling programs. That is when the federal government stepped in.
The federal government passed a law that blocked state-level programs. The law ultimately evolved into the bioengineered (BE) food labeling law, replacing comprehensive state programs with a confusing and limited federal one.
Unfortunately, insufficient labeling standards are common. Many countries across South America, Africa and Southeast Asia rely on programs that lack rigor and enforcement provisions. Examples include:
The Bold and the Banned
A strong labeling program lets the consumer know whether or not a product was made with GMOs so they can make a choice that works for them.
To do that, a GMO labeling program must:
• Apply to most or all products made with GMOs
• Include emerging genetic engineering techniques
• Incorporate an action threshold to address accidental GMO contamination in the supply chain (the lower the action threshold, the more ambitious the program)
• Adopt a consistent, accessible and easy-to-understand logo
Which regions' labeling programs meet this criteria? The list is a short one.
At this time, only four regions around the world adopt the kind of comprehensive labeling programs outlined above: Australia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the European Union.
These regions also limit the cultivation of GMOs within their borders. The EU allows only 1 or 2 GMO crops, while Russia does not allow any. Australia banned most domestic cultivation of most GMOs in 2002 (though some states recently overturned their bans). While Saudi Arabia, in theory, allows some GMO cultivation, Saudi farmers have opted out of planting them.
There are also a handful of purists out there, countries that adopted a complete ban. Zambia, Benin and Serbia have all gone to great lengths to conserve biodiversity, preserve trade partnerships and protect human and environmental health.
Click to explore this interactive map from the Center for Food Safety
Meanwhile, GMO advocates argue against labeling with curious logic: "If there are no safety risks, why should GMOs require labels?"
But their reasoning fails on two counts.
First, the long-term safety of GMOs has not been proven, despite biotech industry claims. The same companies that develop and profit from GMOs conduct safety studies despite explicit conflicts of interest.
Second, consumer information doesn't start and end with safety issues. Some people are motivated by fair trade requirements or humane animal treatment — should they have access to the information they need to make an informed choice? Absolutely!
Everyone has the right to know how their food was made, just as everyone has unique reasons for wanting to know. One person might avoid GMOs for cultural reasons, another for religious ones. Some have concerns about the environmental impacts or want to protect farmers' rights to save seeds.
Your reasons are your own, as are your choices. The Non-GMO Project provides the most trusted certification in North America for GMO avoidance. We protect your right to choose and give you the best tool to make that choice for yourself.