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USDA seeks input on rule for disclosure of bioengineered food

FMI, GMA express support for proposed national standard

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has called for public comment on a proposed rule to set disclosure guidelines for bioengineered food.

Published in the Federal Register on Friday by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the measure would require food manufacturers and others involved in labeling food for retail sale to provide information about bioengineered food and ingredient content. It also aims to establish a national standard for disclosing that information to consumers.

AMS was given two years to set a standard and implementation procedures after Congress enacted the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard Law July 29, 2016. The deadline for comments on the proposed rule is July 3.

According to the USDA, the creation of a uniform standard indicating the bioengineered status of food products would avoid a “patchwork system” of state or private labels that might confuse consumers and hike food costs. More important, it would provide meaningful information to consumers who want to know more about the food they buy.

“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,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “We are looking for public input on a number of these key decisions before a final rule is issued later this year.”

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) yesterday voiced their support for the USDA’s proposed rule, saying it would provide more transparency and uniformity in disclosing information on bioengineered food items.

“FMI supported passage of legislation to bring a clear and consistent national standard to provide customers with information regarding bioengineered food products. Since Congress forged the bipartisan compromise in 2016, we have been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture under both the Obama and Trump Administrations to help move this process forward in a way that provides consistency and clarity to customers across our membership of 33,000 retail food stores,” stated Leslie Sarasin, president and chief executive officer of Arlington, Va.-based FMI.

“We also aligned with the entire value chain to ensure farmers, manufacturers and retailers are working together to provide accurate, simple and unbiased information to our customers,” she added. “We remain focused on consumer education, which will help our customers have the tools they need while they shop.”

In welcoming the release of the proposed rule, GMA said it will work with member companies to review and develop comments on the draft rule and the USDA questions.

“Our comments to USDA will reflect the ongoing commitment of our member companies to providing consumers with the transparency they need to make informed product choices,” GMA said in a statement. “Our industry is delivering on the promise of ingredient transparency. The SmartLabel digital disclosure initiative provides more information than could ever fit on a package label on more than 25,000 food, beverage, personal care and household items, and more products are added every week to Digital disclosure by scanning an electronic link on a package is one of the ways to provide the bioengineered ingredient information required by the federal law.”

FMI noted that SmartLabel will give consumers access to detailed information about products 24/7, including by scanning a QR code on the package, doing a web search, accessing a participating company’s website, calling an 800 number on the package and accessing the SmartLabel app. Companies estimate that by next month, 30,000 products — include food, beverages, personal care household and pet care — will use SmartLabel, FMI said.

Starting in June, FMI and GMA plan to promote a consumer education campaign to help guide consumers to the information they seek, according to Sarasin. The program “creates a mechanism to share information that goes well beyond that included on the label and well beyond whether the product contains ingredients that result from genetic engineering,” she said.

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