USDA Announces GMO Labeling Standard

Published online: Jan 02, 2019 Articles Ron Sterk
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Source: Food Business Network 

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Dec. 20 announced the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which requires food manufacturers, importers and certain retailers to label foods containing genetically modified or bioengineered ingredients.

“The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard increases the transparency of our nation’s food system, establishing guidelines for regulated entities on when and how to disclose bioengineered ingredients,” Mr. Perdue said. “This ensures clear information and labeling consistency for consumers about the ingredients in their food. The standard also avoids a patchwork state-by-state system that could be confusing to consumers.”

The standard defines bioengineered foods as those containing detectable genetic material that has been modified through lab techniques and may not be created through conventional breeding or found in nature. Implementation of the standard begins Jan. 1, 2020, or Jan. 1, 2021, for small food manufacturers. The mandatory compliance date is Jan. 1, 2022. Regulated entities may voluntarily comply with the standard until Dec. 31, 2021.

The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service developed a list of bioengineered foods to identify crops or foods that are available in a bioengineered form and for which regulated entities must maintain records to inform whether a food product must include labeling of bioengineered ingredients.

Regulated entities may use text, a symbol, an electronic or digital link or a text message to disclose bioengineering. Additionally, a phone number and web address are available for small food manufacturers or for small packages.

Certain products made from the 13 bioengineered crops and foods on the USDA’s list do not require labeling. The list of bioengineered foods are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, potato, salmon (AquAdvantage), soybean, squash, sugarbeet and certain varieties of apple, eggplant, papaya and pineapple.

“For refined foods that are derived from bioengineered crops, no disclosure is required if the food does not contain detectable modified genetic material,” according to the advance Federal Register notice. As such, refined beet sugar, soybean oil and corn sweeteners, all mostly from bioengineered seed, would not need to be labeled as a bioengineered ingredient under the new rule. Adequate testing must have been performed to prove that there was no detectable material, though.

In the case of beet sugar, Luther Markwart, executive vice-president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, said three samples from all 23 North American sugar beet factories were tested and no detectable material was found. Once the testing has been completed, no ongoing sampling is needed unless there is a substantial change in the process, he said.

The implementation of the standard follows a rulemaking process that began in July 2016. More than 14,000 comments were received and considered during the rulemaking process. Previously, more than 112,000 comments were received in response to 30 questions regarding the establishment of the standard.

The final rule will be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 21. Following publication of the rule, the USDA will provide outreach and education to inform regulated entities and the public about the new disclosure terms.