USDA Proposes New GMO Labeling Rule

Published online: May 10, 2018 Articles
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Source: Black Sea Grain

The U.S. Department of Agriculture covered such issues as sugar beets, enzymes, animal feed and symbols on May 3 in releasing a proposed rule to establish the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016.

“This rulemaking presents several possible ways to determine what foods will be covered by the final rule and what the disclosure will include and look like,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. “We are looking for public input on a number of these key decisions before a final rule is issued later this year.”

His comments mean the initial date for publishing the final rule, July 26 of this year, will be pushed back. The proposed rule may be found here.

The USDA will accept comments until July 3. Due to the mandated timeline from Congress for the rulemaking, the comment period will not be extended. Comments may be submitted at www.regulations.gov. They also may be filed with the Docket Clerk, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Room 4543-South, Washington, DC 20250.

The USDA proposes to define “bioengineering” with respect to food as referring to a food “(A) that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and (B) for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”  The USD. welcomes public comment on what could be considered to constitute “bioengineering.”

The proposed rule said the terms “bioengineered food” or “bioengineered food ingredient” should be used in the labeling. Alternative phrases, such as “genetically modified” or “genetically engineered,” were considered, but they were not proposed because the USDA said “bioengineering” adequately describes food products of the technology that Congress intended to be within the scope of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.

“This rulemaking presents several possible ways to determine what foods will be covered by the final rule and what the disclosure will include and look like,” Perdue said.
 
The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) said it supported USDA’s proposed tolerance before labeling is required for inadvertent or technically unavoidable bioengineered ingredients contained in food or beverage products.

“Lack of a realistic threshold for disclosure would substantially increase compliance costs, disrupt supply chains and raise food costs,” the NGFA said.

The NGFA also commended the USDA for proposing to rely upon customary and reasonable business records that traditionally are maintained as being sufficient for documenting compliance with the rule.

The NGFA noted that this presumably would include contracts, purchase specifications and confirmations. Doing otherwise would create “complex, cumbersome and extremely costly” recordkeeping requirements within the supply chain that could cause companies to shun the handling or use of safe, wholesome and nutritious bioengineered ingredients in their products, the NGFA said.

Before creating the proposed rule, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service received over 112,000 responses.

Some commented that highly refined products, including sweeteners and oils, made from bioengineered crops are chemically identical to those made from non-bioengineered crops. For instance, they said refined sugar produced from bioengineered sugar beets, at the end of the refining process, is the same as refined sugar produced from non-bioengineered sugar beets.

The AMS said enzymes that are required to be on the ingredient list of products would be subject to disclosure.

“As such, AMS seeks comment on whether, more generally, enzymes present in food should be considered ‘bioengineered food,’“ the AMS said.

The proposed rule prohibits a food derived from an animal from being considered a bioengineered food solely because the animal consumed feed produced from, containing or consisting of a bioengineered substance. One example would be eggs used in a baked food. If the eggs came from a chicken given feed produced from bioengineered corn or soy, the eggs would not be considered bioengineered solely on the basis of the chicken’s feed.

Companies, under the proposed rule, may disclose bioengineered food or ingredients in three ways: text, symbol, or electronic or digital link disclosure. The AMS proposed three alternative symbols with variations of the symbols and invites public comment on them.