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“Genetic engineering” (GE) has become a lightning rod in public discussion of food. Many people refer to genetic engineering as GMO (genetically modified organism), a catchall term for products developed through biotechnology. However, there are many different types of plant breeding that can use modern technology to enhance plant characteristics without adding “genetically modified organisms” to a product. 

United Fresh recognizes that modern technology in plant breeding is a critical tool to combat pests and disease, improve health and nutrition, and enhance sustainability through reduced need for water and other agricultural inputs, and similar benefits. Modern technology in plant breeding provide multiple options for breeders in specifically targeting enhanced traits and carefully controlling plant attributes, with and without genetic engineering. While there are still relatively few produce items that have been genetically engineered, the industry supported federal legislation which became law in 2016 because it ensures that food labeling will be set by national regulation, not a patchwork of state requirements across the country.

The debate on GMO labeling, resolved legislatively as a federal rather than state issue, now becomes a battle at USDA in writing implementing regulations. The agreement crafted by Congress requires mandatory disclosure for foods derived from genetically engineered products.  The law provides for flexibility to disclose this information in one of three ways: 1) text on the package; 2) a symbol on the package; or 3) an electronic link to a website where the information is posted.  However, it is now up to USDA to write regulations to implement these provisions. 

Throughout the process of implementing the new labeling law, United Fresh will engage with industry partners and policymakers to influence how a “GMO symbol” might look.  Our goal is ensure that this is transparent, but not scary, to consumers. In addition, the produce industry has some unique concerns regarding the disclosure of bulk commodity products that are not packaged. As we did with the mandate for country-of-origin labeling, we must ensure that demands for retail disclosure do not add unnecessary costs or require significant changes in merchandising or supply chain segmentation.


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