Are there ingredients from GE Plants in my Food?
In this activity, students will examine a variety of foods and their ingredients to determine which foods contain ingredients that may have come from genetically engineered plants.
Time to Complete
- Food Labels Card set, 1 set per group
- Avery Mailing Labels #8163*
- 3 x 5 Index cards*
- Are There Ingredients from GE Plants in My Food? worksheet, 1 per group of 3-5 students
- USDA's fact sheet for consumers: What is a Bioengineered Food?, 1 copy per student
- Personal devices or computers with internet access
- Background information for teacher reference
*Create the Food Labels card set for each group of students by copying them on Avery Mailing Labels #8163; then attach the labels to 3 x 5 index cards. For longer lasting cards, laminate. Alternatively you can print on cardstock and cut them apart. Making sets in different colors will help keep the sets together.
- Explain that a variety of labeling approaches are used to identify products that do or do not include ingredients from GE plants, and that different terms, such as genetically engineered, bioengineered, and GMO, are also used. Starting in January 2022, mandatory labels will read “Bioengineered” if the food is a bioengineered food or is made using bioengineered food ingredients. Along with this, some companies may voluntarily identify products that do not use bioengineered food ingredients, and they may use phrases like “not genetically engineered” or “non-GMO."
- Discuss a few examples of potential ingredients from GE plants in food. Examples include:
- corn starch could come from GE corn
- soybean oil could come from GE soybeans
- canola oil could come from GE canola
- soy lecithin could come from GE soybeans
- Ask students to brainstorm the kinds of information they find on food labels. Groups should share their ideas with the whole class.
- Optional Extension: Consider asking students to gather (or take photos of) 3-4 food products from their home. Ask if anyone would like to share information about their food product and why the label is interesting to them. Ask them if the information and labeling on the package is required or if it is voluntary &/or used to market the product. This could be a short warm-up activity or a longer discussion. If students need a refresher on the Nutrition Facts label, refer to What's on the Nutrition Facts Label or the Interactive Nutrition Facts Label.
- Watch the videos:
- Divide students into groups and give each group a Food Labels Card set and a Are There Ingredients from GE Plants in My Food? worksheet. Instruct students to go through their Food Label Cards and divide them into two groups:
- (a) Foods with ingredients that could come from GE plants
- (b) Foods with ingredients that have no counterpart from a GE plant
- Discuss the food (and any ingredients) shown on each card, and decide which of the two categories is appropriate for that item. Record the items in each category in the data table.
- As a class, review the foods the students placed in each category and explain their reasons for placement. Modify your data tables, as needed, during the discussion. Discuss whether there are any food safety concerns about eating foods with GE ingredients. Have students support their reasons with facts.
- As a review, summarize that food labeling is used to inform consumers about their food as well as for marketing, cultural, and other purposes. One example of marketing is when foods are labeled “non-GMO” even though there are no GE counterparts (e.g., salt).
- Ask students, "Based on what you have learned in this activity, would you label these foods non-GMO? Why or why not?"
The information listed on food labels serves different purposes. Some labeling is for safety and identity, and other labeling is for consumer interest/marketing. A variety of labeling approaches are used to identify products that do or do not include ingredients from GE plants; and different terms, such as genetically engineered, bioengineered, and GMO, are used. Food manufacturers, importers, and certain retailers are required to ensure that BE foods, and foods with BE ingredients, include a BE food disclosure (using one of several options: text, symbol, electronic or digital link, or text message) by January 1, 2022.