The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just released its new rules about labeling for biogengineered foods, referred to as the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, or just BE Disclosure.
These standards apply to food manufacturers, retailers and importers alike.
What Are Bioengineered Foods?
In vitro rDNA modifications are made to genetic material that is contained in some types of food. If these techniques were used, the food is considered to have been bioengineered.
According to the USDA disclosure posted online December 20, 2018, bioengineered foods are those that "contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature."
If modified genetic material is not detectable, the food isn't bioengineered.
The USDA says that they determine whether or not the material is detectable through several verification steps. These include ensuring that records indicate the food was made from non-bioengineered food or that it has been refined to ensure the material is undetectable.
These records could be organic certification documents, source evidence or supply chain records.
What Are the New Rules?
Beginning January 1, 2020 for most food manufacturers, and a year later for smaller companies, the USDA's new rules will be implemented. All manufacturers must comply by January 1, 2022.
However, food manufacturers that are considered very small – that is, have less than $2,500,000 in annual receipts – are exempt from these requirements, as are restaurants and similar businesses.
In July 2016, Congress passed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law, which established standards for the USDA to disclose whether foods had been or may have been bioengineered, or a genetically modified organism (GMO). Under the new standard, the term GMO will not appear on the labels.
The USDA provided a list of the foods or crops that can be bioengineered worldwide. Companies must keep records of these foods to figure out whether or not they need to bioengineered disclosure. The list was developed by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).
Foods that are subject to these requirements are governed by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act or the Egg Products Inspection Act if the main ingredient is subject to labeling or if the main ingredient is broth, stock, water, or similar, and the second main ingredient is subject to labeling under the FDCA.
The new required labels are bright green and say either "Bioengineered" or "Derived from bioengineering."
How Will This Information Be Disclosed?
On food labels, this required disclosure must be present on the information panel near the manufacturer information or on the main display panel. If, however, the packaging is too small to include this information, then the disclosure can be on any other panel on the product, as long as a consumer could see it.
Applicable companies have several options for disclosing this information, according to the USDA. It can be:
- text, written as "Bioengineered Food" or "Contains a Bioengineered Food Ingredient"
- the USDA-approved symbol
- a link with instructions to "scan here for more information" or similar, as well as a phone number to call
- a text message – "Text X to NUMBER for bioengineered food information" for example
- phone number (for small manufacturers or packages)
- web address/URL (for small manufacturers or packages)
Smaller packages may also include shortened versions of the above examples.
The USDA-approved symbol for these labels can be downloaded from the USDA website, either in color or black and white.