New labels are starting to appear on some food packaging with the statement “contains a bioengineered food ingredient.” This is part of a new U.S. regulation for the disclosure of foods made from bioengineered crops, commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. With all the conversation around GMOs and the appearance of new labels, we want to explain what they mean and help everyone to be informed about our food and drinks.
Bioengineered, genetically modified organisms or GMOs, genetic engineering - these terms can be confusing. At a basic level, these terms refer to crops, like corn, canola, or soybeans that have been altered using modern biotechnology to give it more desirable traits. “GMO” has become the common name used by consumers and popular media to describe foods created through genetic engineering. Although GMO foods have been available to consumers since the early 1990s, you will see new “bioengineered” labels on some foods because of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. This 2018 regulation requires companies to use the term “bioengineered” rather than GMO to now disclose foods made from GMO crops.
We are confident that foods made using ingredients from GMO crops are safe. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), “GMO foods are as healthful and safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts.” In addition, the FDA concluded that any long-term health effects from GMOs are no different from those from non-GMO foods. The World Health Organization (WHO) also acknowledges “GM products that are currently on the international market have all passed safety assessments conducted by national authorities.”
Foods in the U.S. commonly contain ingredients produced with GMO crops - from corn, soy, and sugar beet derived ingredients.
A main reason so many farmers use GMO seeds is because modifications to crops often means they can grow food more efficiently, with higher yields. GMO seeds can also help crops better resist disease, pests and inclement weather. This helps make food more abundant and affordable, thus helping meet the long-term food needs of the world in a more sustainable way.
Non-GMO (Non-Bioengineered) Options
We recognize that some people prefer foods made to specific production standards, including those that do not use ingredients produced from GMO crops. If you are looking for products made with non-GMO-sourced ingredients, many of Unilever’s biggest food and refreshment brands, including Hellmann’s, Breyers, Talenti, Lipton and all of Ben & Jerry’s, have non-GMO offerings. Our products that are USDA certified organic, or state “Non-GMO Sourced” on packaging and in SmartLabel all meet the Unilever Non-GMO Standard (PDF 34KB) and qualify as non-GMO offerings according to the USDA regulation. All of our products, whether they use non-GMO-sourced ingredients or GMOs, follow the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code and are designed to help us meet our nutritional standards.
You may start to notice an additional sentence added to some of our food and beverage labels that says, “Contains a bioengineered food ingredient” or “Ingredients derived from a bioengineered source.” What do these statements mean?
“Contains a bioengineered food ingredient” means the product contains an ingredient made from a bioengineered crop and the ingredient has detectable bioengineered material. This is a required disclosure under the regulation. While the regulation provides flexibility on where manufacturers provide the disclosure, Unilever follows the most transparent practice of disclosing both on the label and online via SmartLabel™.
“Ingredients derived from a bioengineered source” means the product contains an ingredient from a bioengineered crop, but the ingredient does not have detectable bioengineered material. Examples include processed oils and sugar. This is a voluntary disclosure under the regulation. However, Unilever is committed to transparency about our products, and as such we voluntarily disclose the presence of such ingredients both on our labels and online via SmartLabel™.